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Increase in Hepatitis C Infections in the Younger Population

How is hepatitis C transmitted?

It is a common misconception that hepatitis C is often sexually transmitted. Although there are a small number of people who become infected via sexual intercourse, the majority of those infected become exposed to the hepatitis C virus through infected needles or through contact with infected blood.

Those who come into contact with infected needles most often do so through IV drug use and sharing needles or through being tattooed in an unlicensed facility where the needles have been reused. Those who come into contact with infected blood may be healthcare providers who work in patient situations where blood is present or they may be someone who is otherwise exposed to someone else’s blood.

Why is the younger population being infected at such high rates?

Currently, the rates of drug use and drug abuse are skyrocketing, especially in the younger population. Prescription drug use and abuse is also becoming increasingly common. As the statistics for drug overdoses have continued to climb, some states have begun to try to combat drug use by placing heavier restrictions on doctors who prescribe narcotics. In addition, some pharmacies are refusing to carry certain drugs, in hopes of helping to keep their own communities drug-free.

Although the intention is good, some people who have been using narcotics to manage pain have been forced to seek out an alternative option when they can no longer access the prescription pain medications that they had been taking. At the same time, those who live in communities where narcotic prescriptions are still common are finding that these pills are inexpensive and easy to obtain. Over time, however, they become less effective as the body builds a tolerance.

Eventually, both those without access to narcotics and those who no longer feel the effects of narcotics begin to seek other drugs. Often, these drug seekers become IV drug users. IV drugs are typically more potent than narcotics in pill form, which can create faster addictions in users as the experience is more pleasurable than they were previously attaining from taking pills. In addition, as the IV drug sensations are impacting the body, they are also altering the user’s mind, which can lead them to make unsafe choices, such as to inject the drugs into their veins via used needles.

What can be done to slow this infection rate or to stop it?

Currently, the issue is two-fold; in some communities and cities, there are not enough resources to take care of every young person seeking assistance, in others, the resources are not being used. In areas where drug use and drug abuse is most common, there may be a severe lack of hospitals or other medical facilities to treat both the acute problems of a drug overdose or drug addiction as well as the long-term process of guiding a young person into a sober lifestyle. This can lead the facilities to be over-stressed, understaffed, and unable to treat a large number of people who arrive seeking help.

It is important for those who live in these areas to work together to provide options for these young people. Helping to make this happen may be found in the form of gaining political support from elected officials, it may come from working with hospitals to find out how to volunteer in order to take some of the pressure off of the overworked staff, or it may be in participating in fundraising events to find money to facilitate new programs to help those in need. If you are interested in finding out how to help bring more access to your neighborhood, you can contact your local hospital or clinic and inquire.

In other communities and cities, many people do not utilize the treatment options available to them in their communities. In most cases, this is at least due, in part, to society’s stigma of drug users and of people who are addicted to drugs. In some cases, the under-utilization of treatment options is due to a lack of knowledge about these options. In addition, those who have a chronic illness or other need for pain management may lack the financial resources to see a pain management specialist or to see doctors who focus in alternative medicines such as massage therapy, acupuncture, or other forms of pain minimization.

To help young people in these communities, outreach can be most helpful. This may mean working with the local facilities to post flyers to let local youth know where they can turn to for assistance. It may mean working with politicians in the community to work on an initiative to encourage those in need to trust the staff and come in when they are in need of help. It may even mean volunteering time or an expert skill to bolster the programs and opportunities available for young people during their treatment. If you are interested in helping to let your community know about the programs available for those in need, you can contact the facilities directly to offer your help.1-9

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  8. Prussing, C., Bornschlegel, K., & Balter, S. (2014). Hepatitis C Surveillance among Youth and Young Adults in New York City, 2009–2013. Journal Of Urban Health, 92(2), 387-399.
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