Last month, as part of ongoing efforts to increase awareness of viral hepatitis among populations at risk, we were pleased to host a webinar Hepatitis C Prevention Opportunities Among People Who Inject Drugs: Confronting the Growing Epidemic. Participants learned about trends in hepatitis C, new tools, and prevention messages, and also reviewed hepatitis C prevention efforts targeted towards PWID. PWID are at high risk for hepatitis C infection, and the nationwide increases in new hepatitis C infections and injection drug use require focused public health efforts to address the specific needs of PWID.
Approximately 800 individuals from federal, non-federal, and community organizations participated in the webinar. The featured presenters were Dr. Jon Zibbell, [PDF 66KB] Health Scientist and Medical Anthropologist from the Prevention Branch of CDC’s Division of Viral Hepatitis, and Dr. Holly Hagan, [PDF 66KB] Co-Director of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research at New York University and Professor, NYU College of Nursing.
Overall, the prevalence of hepatitis C infection among PWID is estimated to be 30% to 70%. As discussed during the webinar, between 2010 and 2013, there was a significant (~150%) increase in acute hepatitis C infections, [PDF 1.5MB] according to the latest data from CDC. Epidemiology research has revealed that these new infections are largely attributable to injection drug use among young non-urban persons who also have a history of prescription opioid drug (e.g., oxycodone) abuse. In response to this emerging epidemic, it is imperative that education and awareness efforts are increased and reach the PWID who are at risk as well as health care providers and other social service providers.
Drs. Zibbell and Hagan shared several key points about hepatitis C infection in PWID:
- Chronic hepatitis C infection is the leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer in the U.S.
- Approximately 3 million people in the U.S. are chronically infected with hepatitis C, and the number of new infections is increasing, particularly among PWID.
- Most individuals infected with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection and can spread the virus to others.
- The recent increase in acute hepatitis C infections is driven by injection drug use, primarily among young PWID.
- Comprehensive approaches to preventing hepatitis C transmission among PWID must include access to sterile injection equipment.
During the webinar, Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, emphasized the need for increased awareness and testing, stating “Our immediate task is to increase awareness about hepatitis C, share information about prevention, and encourage people to be tested. People who are aware of their status can take action to improve their health and adopt measures to prevent transmission to others.”
The webinar reflects our efforts to reduce viral hepatitis caused by drug use, Priority Area 5 of the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care, and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, and a key strategy identified in a 2013 HHS technical consultation on hepatitis C infection among young PWID.
Help us spread the word by sharing this webinar and additional resources from the CDC with your networks to increase awareness about prevention of hepatitis C among PWID. The following are available: