Feb 3, 2013 3:46 PM
EDGEWOOD, Ky. (AP) - Statistics show cases of hepatitis C have exploded in northern Kentucky.
Due to the increase, the Independent Health Department District is offering free testing to anyone concerned about the chronic blood-borne disease that affects the liver. In addition, the department is encouraging high-risk groups to get tested.
The Kentucky Enquirer (http://bit.ly/YEXCR3) reports the area had 23 cases of acute hepatitis C in 2010, 42 in 2011 and 44 in 2012. Officials have said the heroin epidemic in the area is likely a factor in the increase.
"We are no longer surprised by the numbers because we have been seeing it rise for a few years now," said Patricia Burns, infection control coordinator for St. Elizabeth Healthcare hospitals. "I have to think it is related to the issues in NKY surrounding illegal, intravenous drug use."
Health department spokeswoman Emily Gresham Wherle said anyone who tests positive for the disease will be provided with counseling, education and care options. She says the health department also hopes to get a better understanding of the prevalence of the problem.
Counties included in the health district include Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant.
Jennifer Hunter, the health department's director of clinical services, said testing began last year and will continue through at least March. At that point, she said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will evaluate the results and determine whether the program should continue.
She said hepatitis C is usually transferred by sharing items to inject drugs, such as syringes.
"Almost 88 percent (of those tested) had a history of IV drug use," Hunter said.
Dr. Lynne Saddler, district director of health, attributed some of the increase to growing awareness, and encouraged those in risk groups to get tested and get treatment if needed.
"Obviously, these folks need to know what their status is and take appropriate actions in their own lives," Saddler said. "We all need to be sure we are reducing our risks."
Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com
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