A new study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that three Appalachian states – Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee – have experienced a huge surge in Hepatitis B cases due to injection drug abuse.
The CDC found that from 2009 to 2013, Hepatitis cases in the three states rose by 114% and that three-quarter of those cases were linked with injecting drugs.
Van Ingram, the executive Director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, is not surprised at all by the study results. He said, “All of the blood-borne pathogens are a concern because of how they spread…Nine in 10 people who abuse prescription pills or heroin are injecting them intravenously, and many are using dirty needles.”
What is Hepatitis B?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection caused by the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and it is transmitted from an infected person through contact with their blood or bodily fluids. It causes health problems such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. The only way to guard against Hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated.
The Journal for Infectious Diseases conducted a study on the Hepatitis B vaccine and found that it was still effective after 30 years and therefore booster doses were unnecessary.
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark urine
- Acute liver failure
- Joint pain
- Weakness and Fatigue
Chronic infections caused by Hepatitis B can lead to death.
What This Study Tells Us
The CDC researchers are afraid that the surge in Hepatitis B cases might be a warning sign of an impending national crisis; similar to what happened in Indiana when there was an outbreak of HIV due to needle sharing among prescription painkiller addicts.
In their study, the researchers wrote, “The increase in (hepatitis B infections in Appalachia) has the potential to impede the nation’s hepatitis B elimination strategy.” The report called for more research and more public education programs on the disease.
How Appalachian States are Responding
According to USA Today, all the three Appalachian states have taken steps to combat the spread of Hepatitis B. For instance, Tennessee has been vaccinating inmates; West Virginia has been working with addiction centers to conduct vaccination projects; while Kentucky is conducting educational campaigns for health workers and has also passed ‘needle-exchange’ laws.
Needle-exchange programs have not been popular in many areas in America but Ingram claims that it’s because people don’t know that these programs “do more than just give out needles.”
Rahul Gupta, West Virginia’s State Health Officer, was quoted by USA Today saying that needle-exchange programs were being used in his state as part of the strategy to combat drug abuse and addiction. He said, “This is something we have been focusing on at all levels…We certainly are very hopeful that the comprehensiveness of our approach will now help us get a handle on this.”
It will be important for these states to control this outbreak before more lives are put in danger.