Hepatitis C on rise in young Kentuckians

Women, babies at alarming risk as Ky. ranks highest in nation with acute cases

If you are a young woman in Kentucky, you are 10 times more likely to get hepatitis C than the national average.

Drug abuse is to blame. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that widespread drug abuse has led to a significant increase in hepatitis C diagnoses among women of childbearing age.

Between 2011 and 2014, researchers found hepatitis C detection among women of childbearing age rose 213 percent in Kentucky, compared with 22 percent nationally.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious blood-borne virus that infects the liver. Its severity can range from acute — lasting only a few weeks — to chronic, or ongoing. It can have serious – even deadly – long-term effects if left untreated.

  • Up to 85 percent of people infected with the virus will develop chronic hepatitis C
  • Up to 70 percent of people infected will develop chronic liver disease
  • Up to 20 percent will develop cirrhosis
  • One in five people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer caused by hepatitis C

How is it spread?

Hepatitis C is spread when the blood of an infected person gets into the blood of another person. The most common way it is spread is through sharing needles or other injectable drug equipment. It also can be spread by unintentional needle sticks in a health care setting or by sharing toothbrushes or razors, and sometimes through sexual contact.

In addition, mothers can pass hepatitis C to their babies, which makes the recent rise in hepatitis C cases among young women so alarming.

The research found the proportion of babies born to women with hepatitis C in Kentucky rose 124 percent. The national increase was 68 percent.

What are the symptoms and how do you treat hepatitis C?

What makes hepatitis C so dangerous is it doesn’t always have signs. According to the CDC, up to 80 percent of people with acute hepatitis C do not show signs of symptoms. Even if you don’t have symptoms you can still spread the virus to others.

Most symptoms occur within six to seven weeks after infection. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice

Who should get tested?

“Current U.S. Preventative Services Task Force guidelines recommend all adults born between 1945 and 1965 be tested at least once regardless of risk factors, and any adult with ongoing risk factors get tested at least annually,” said Paul Schulz, M.D., infectious disease specialist, Norton Healthcare.

This includes current and former IV drug users, even those who injected only once or many years ago, as well as pregnant women who have risk factors.

There are several medications available to treat acute and chronic hepatitis C.


Ask your primary care provider to test you for hepatitis C during your next annual wellness exam. If you are pregnant, ask your OB/GYN if you should be tested.

Need a primary care provider or OB/GYN? We can help you find one. Call (502) 629-1234.

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