An increase in the abuse of injectable drugs has caused hepatitis C infection rates to more than triple in four Appalachian states, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rates were highest among people under age 30, mostly in rural areas, in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the May report, which looked at health data from 2006 to 2012.
In the four central Appalachian states, hepatitis C virus, or HCV, infections rose 364% during the six years, according to the report.
About 44.8% of the 1,377 new cases were among people under 30, the report said.
“Demographic and behavioral data accompanying these reports show young persons (30 and under) from nonurban areas contributed to the majority of cases, with about 73% citing (injection drug use) as a principal risk factor,” the report said.
In the six years, the states saw a jump in the number of adolescents and young adults admitted to substance abuse treatment for opioid dependency, the report found.
The increase in heroin use in the Appalachian states is consistent with national reports that estimate an increase in first-time heroin use from 90,000 people in 2006 to 156,000 people in 2012, according to the report.
Though the rate of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, infection among young people who inject drugs in central Appalachia is low, the spike in hepatitis infection “raises concerns about the potential for an increase in HIV infections because (injection drug use) is a risk factor for both HCV and HIV infection,” the report said.
Hepatitis C infection is the most common blood-borne infection in the United States, affecting approximately 3 million people, according to the CDC.