The Illinois Department of Public Health has reported a significant increase in the number of people infected with hepatitis C, growing from 6,887 cases in 2006 to 9,838 in 2017. According to the latest article from Healthcare Weekly, the state health department attributes this increase to an uptick in the number of people on injection drug use.
The 43 percent rise in hepatitis C cases is most prevalent in patients under the age of 35, and experts believe this is linked to the rise in the opioid endemic. Health professionals believe that to address the rise in hepatitis C infections, physicians should first deal with drug use by providing clean syringes and increased testing at syringe exchange sites.
The Illinois State Medical Society has urged physicians to screen all patients born between 1945 and 1965, while also pointing a spotlight on patients who have either use, or have used, intravenous drugs.
Concern, however, has been raised that Illinois’ policies on access to hepatitis C medication can restrict some patients, particularly those on Medicaid. “Unfortunately, in Illinois, these highly effective and lifesaving drugs are not available to all patients with Medicaid,” physicians Oluwatoyin Adeyemi, Andrew Aronsohn, Basmatee Boodram, Daniel Johnson and Mayi Tuyet Pho wrote in an opinion piece for Crain’s Chicago Business. They urged for reform to these policies, stressing that only four states ranked lower than Illinois in terms of access to drugs that cure hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that attacks the liver. It is spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected, through sharing needles and syringes or having intercourse with an infected person.
It is estimated that 3.9 million people in America have the infection. One in two people with hepatitis C may not know they have the infection, heightening the need for screening.