Jefferson County, Colo. — Hepatitis C virus cases increased 65 percent among 21- to 30-year-olds in 10 Front-Range counties, including Jefferson County, between 2015 and 2016. Cases among this age group in Jefferson County rose nearly 32 percent.
“The spike in hepatitis C among young adults highlights the importance of treatment, testing and, especially, prevention,” said Dr. Margaret Huffman, director of the Community Health Services division at Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH). “It’s likely that this spike reflects an increase in injection drug use, and we have prevention strategies that are effective right here at JCPH.”
Hepatitis C is a liver infection that usually spreads when blood from a person living with hepatitis C enters the body of another person. It can be a short-term illness or develop into a lifelong condition, and a majority of people living with hepatitis C have no symptoms. Without treatment, hepatitis C can cause serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Sharing needles, syringes and other equipment used to inject drugs can spread hepatitis C and other bloodborne infections, such as hepatitis B and HIV. Prevention strategies include access to free sterile syringes and safe injection equipment through syringe services programs.
JCPH offers access to safe injection supplies through Points West, a harm reduction syringe services program that allows people who inject drugs to bring in used syringes and access new, sterile syringes. It also provides new injection equipment, free hepatitis C and HIV testing, education and counseling, treatment referrals and containers for safe disposal of used syringes. The program is located at the JCPH clinic in Lakewood and offers a safe space that is judgement-free and confidential.
“In addition to substance abuse treatment, syringe services programs like Points West are a proven way to prevent disease spread,” said Kelly Conroy, public health nurse supervisor at JCPH. “We strongly encourage people who inject drugs to find a syringe services program and to avoid sharing or re-using syringes or injection equipment.”
The CDC recommends people who inject drugs be tested for hepatitis C and be vaccinated against hepatitis B. People who use street drugs also should be vaccinated against hepatitis A. There is no vaccination for hepatitis C, but there is treatment. People diagnosed with viral hepatitis should talk to a health care provider about treatment options.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is committed to promoting health and preventing injury and disease for the residents of Jefferson County, Colorado. Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. To learn more about JCPH, visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.