- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2017

Hepatitis C infection increased by nearly 300 percent among intravenous drug users, according to a new study released by the National Center for Disease Control.

There were over 19,000 deaths in 2015 associated with hepatitis C, exceeding “the combined number of deaths with 60 other infectious diseases as underlying causes,” according to the CDC.

There are believed to be between 2.7 million and 3.9 million people in the U.S. with a chronic case of hepatitis C, a viral infection that leads to inflammation of the liver, responsible for an estimated 19,659 deaths in 2014.

Mortality associated with hepatitis C has increased among 55- to 64-year-olds from 2006 to 2010 and represents half of deaths linked to the virus.

Ahead of National Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, the CDC released new statistics highlighting the public health threat posed by hepatitis B and C and a campaign of awareness to promote testing and managed care of the viral infection.

Around 90 percent of U.S. children are vaccinated against hepatitis A and B and though no vaccine exists for hepatitis C, it can be treated with a relatively short course (12-week) of an oral anti-viral medication.

The new statistics were published this week in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report and highlighted an earlier report published in March in the National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, which called for an aggressive campaign to eradicate hepatitis.

“Viral hepatitis is simply not a sufficient priority in the United States,” Dr. Brian Strom said in a press release. He is the chancellor of Rutger’s University’s Biomedical and Health Sciences, and chairman of the committee that outlined a strategy for the elimination of hepatitis B and C.

“Despite being the seventh leading cause of death in the world — and killing more people every year than HIV, road traffic accidents, or diabetes — viral hepatitis accounts for less than 1 percent of the National Institutes of Health research budget,” he said.

The committee, led by Dr. Strom, advises an aggressive plan to tackle hepatitis infection, including increased testing for the virus, diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods, such as needle exchanges.

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