Number of reported cases of Hepatitis C on increase in countyCarlton County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) sent out a notice Wednesday alerting local health care providers of an increase in reported chronic Hepatitis C cases in Carlton County.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) sent out a notice Wednesday alerting local health care providers of an increase in reported chronic Hepatitis C cases in Carlton County. According to the MDH, Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus, commonly transmitted through the use of injection drugs.
In the first three quarters of 2010, 27 Hepatitis C cases were reported in the county, compared to 19 cases reported in 2009.
“Though these cases were newly reported to MDH,” said Amy Westbrook, district epidemiologist for the Northeast Office of the MDH, “they don’t necessarily represent new infections or new diagnoses, but we are following up on them nonetheless.”
She explained that Hepatitis C wasn’t identified until fairly recently so blood products were not screened for it, allowing the virus to be spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Today, she said, screening is performed routinely and all newly identified cases are investigated.
In addition to the increase in reported cases of the Hepatitis C virus in Carlton County – most of which are concentrated in the Cloquet area – Westbrook said the age group that is presenting itself in these cases is somewhat unusual.
“Cases of Hepatitis C normally show up in those around the age of 50,” she said, “but what we’re seeing here in the county is an increasing number of cases in the 20- to 30-year-old age bracket.”
Westbrook said other clusters of increased numbers of young people infected with the Hepatitis C virus have been reported in the Twin Cities area as well as in Becker and Mahnomen counties in Minnesota.
Westbrook said in some cases of Hepatitis C, the patient is unaware of how he or she may have been exposed to the virus, but she said it often shows up as the result of injection drug use from the sharing of needles. Though tattoo establishments were once thought to be a possible source of Hepatitis C, Westbrook said today most are “pretty well self-regulated.”
There is also the possibility for Hepatitis C to be sexually transmitted, particularly by those infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases or those having multiple partners. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also reports there appears to be an increased risk for sexual transmission of Hepatitis C among gay men who are HIV-positive.
The MDH will now be working with Carlton County Public Health and Human Services and Fond du Lac Human Services Public Health Nursing Department to follow up on the reported cases of the virus to determine whether they are new infections and identify additional at-risk persons for Hepatitis C testing.
A free training session is planned from 8:30-11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, at the Min No Aya Win Human Services Center in Cloquet for public health staff members, chemical dependency workers, jail nurses, community health partners, pharmacists, school nurses, law enforcement and EMS personnel and post-secondary school staff. For more information, call Mary Jo Hill at 218-878-2848.
According to the CDC, many people with Hepatitis C do not have symptoms and do not know they are affected (though the virus can be detected in the blood). In the meantime, damage to the liver can silently occur, sometimes over the period of several years.
Hepatitis C has both acute and chronic forms. If symptoms do occur, they are often a sign of advanced liver disease and can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen; dark urine, grey-colored stools, joint pain and jaundice.
The CDC issued the following advice to reduce the risk of becoming infected with the Hepatitis C virus:
• Do not share needles or other equipment to inject cosmetic substances, drugs or steroids;
• Do not use personal items that may have come into contact with an infected person’s blood, such as razors, nail clippers, toothbrushes or glucose monitors;
• Do not get tattoos or body piercings from an unlicensed facility or in an informal setting.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, though research is being conducted to develop one. Treatment for Hepatitis C often includes rest, adequate nutrition, fluids, and antiviral medications. The CDC recommends that people with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly for signs of liver disease.
For more information on Hepatitis C, go to www.cdc.gov/ hepatitis or www.health.state.mn.us.