April 10, 2013
According to surveillance by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, chronic hepatitis C among young people is increasing in Barnstable County and in many other counties in the state, including Suffolk County, which includes Boston. In 2010, Suffolk County recorded 27 confirmed cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in individuals ages 15 to 25 years in Barnstable County. That corresponds to a rate of 138.75 cases per 100,000 people, the highest incidence rate for that age group in the state. The other county that came close was Berkshire County, with a rate of 134.29 per 100,000 people. Rates at Cape Cod were very high, but the Department of Public Health state that the youth rates are climbing across the state. This increase in HCV among young people is attributed to sharing syringes for injection drug sue. Preliminary figures for 2011 show 32 probable cases of HCV among Cape and Islands residents ages 15 to 25 years. Probable cases are those that tested positive for antibodies. Confirmed results require further positive tests, which are not yet ready.
On the Cape and Islands, health officials have been tracking down young people with HCV in treatment centers, shelters, methadone clinics, and a county correctional facility. Kevin Cranston, director of the state Department of Public Health's Bureau of Infections, commented that they first noticed this disease in this age group in 2002. Public health officials suspect another epidemic, opiate addiction, as the root cause, with needle-sharing exposing injecting drug users to the disease. Approximately 70 percent of young people with HCV have admitted to using an injectable drug at least once; Cranston suspected the actual percentage was higher.
Cape Cod Healthcare Infectious Disease Nurse Heidi Smith reported that 10 out of 40 people tested at the Gosnold at Cataumet post-detoxification center were positive for HCV. Also, at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility, up to 40 percent of tested inmates were positive for HCV, said Valerie Al-Hachem, manager of infectious disease clinical services at Cape Cod Healthcare. Since 2009, the correctional facility has reported 124 new diagnoses of the virus among inmates in the 17 to 26 age range, almost all among people with a history of IV drug use, according to Vicki Sherwin, public health coordinator at the jail.