Hepatitis C Deaths Spike; Baby Boomers At Highest Risk

Hepatitis C deaths have reached an all-time high in the U.S. – and it’s not just from dirty needles within the drug-using community. Baby Boomers are at highest risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Plus, more Americans now die from Hepatitis C than any other infection disease combined, including HIV. Click here for a recent CDC report.

So what’s the deal?

Experts point to the rapid rise in heroin use involving needles, which often spawn off from opioid addictions.

But the other and more immediate concern is those Baby Boomers who might not even know they have Hepatitis C until it’s taken over the liver or become cancer, as FOX 21’s Dan Hanger reports.

The disease of addiction is alive and well in the Northland, and it’s also taking lives with it at the same time.

“I think we have two things; we have a pain-management problem in America with illnesses and post injury, and we have addiction problems,” said Maggie Kazel, with the Rural AIDS Action Network in Duluth. “So we have a lot of unmet need, and that will drive an epidemic.”

“We see literally between the ages of 20 and 65 — just about anybody you can imagine,” Kazel explained of dozens of clients she sees in her office on a given day during the week.

Kazel believes while HIV is still a very real concern, especially with the injection drug users, Hepatitis C is taking the lead in some ways because of the deadly heroin epidemic.

“HIV doesn’t live outside the body well — past one or two minutes, tops. Hep C can live on surfaces for days. It can live in the barrel of a needle up to a month,” Kazel explained.

“This is a blood-born pathogen. Blood from an infected individual needs to get inside your body in order to cause infection,” said Ellen Hill, with the Minnesota Department of Health in Duluth.

Hill is urging high-risk people, like drug users and baby boomers, to get tested.

“Even if it were decades ago and you were experimenting. If you’ve done it once and it was decades ago, you need to get tested,” Hill said.

Beyond those categories, Hill advises anyone who has received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992 to get tested because she says widespread screening of the blood supply didn’t begin until ’92.

“The scary thing is you might not know for decades that you have developed an infection,” Hill said.

And when those signs of infection finally happen, experts say it usually means liver disease or liver cancer, which can end in death.

“We’re trying to avoid becoming the next Scott County, Indiana, where in early 2015, they woke up in a very poor county and found 191 new cases of HIV and Hep-C, and that’s a nightmare that everybody in the country is trying to hurry up and avoid,” Kazel explained.

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