Hepatitis C surge in central Ohio may spur needle-exchange program

The boom in heroin use paired with a surge in hepatitis C infections in Franklin County and across Ohio have heightened worries about the spread of other diseases, particularly HIV, and sparked conversations about a local needle exchange.

Hepatitis C, a treatable but sometimes deadly viral disease that attacks the liver, was diagnosed in 719 people in Franklin County five years ago. The number had nearly doubled by last year, to 1,369, according to data from Columbus Public Health. So far this year, the county is on pace to record more than 1,400 cases. In just one year, the number of hepatitis C cases statewide grew from 10,020 in 2013 to 15,887 in 2014.

Some of that most certainly is due to a push for testing at-risk baby boomers that has been fueled by better treatments. But there’s little question among doctors and public-health leaders that needle-sharing by people using heroin and other drugs is playing a role. Last year, 603 of the cases in Franklin County were in people 34 or younger.


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