Viral Hepatitis

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. It is most often caused by one of several viruses that primarily attack the liver. The most common types of viral hepatitis in the US are hepatitis A, B, and C. Hepatitis B and C are both transmitted through contact with the blood of an infected person, putting injection drug users at high risk of acquiring the disease. Hepati- tis B and C begin as acute infections, and can result in chronic disease and long-term liver damage when the virus remains in the body.

Hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne infection in the US, affecting nearly 3.2 million people nationwide, and can lead to serious health problems including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and cancer. Preventing transmission is essential because there is no vaccine for the virus and treatment is difficult, costly, and not always effective. Hepatitis C virus disproportionately affects injection drug users: 48 percent of people with acute hepatitis C infections in 2007 reported injection drug use. One- third of HIV-infected injection drug users are also infected with hepatitis C virus.

Harm reduction services can reduce the risk of hepatitis C transmission by one-half.

Harm reduction services, including access to sterile syringes and opioid substitution therapy, have been found to reduce risk of hepatitis C transmission among injection drug users by as much as one-half. Prevention is extremely cost-effective. In the United States a sterile syringe costs $0.97, while the average lifetime cost of treatment for hepatitis C ranges from $100,000 to $300,000 for each person undergoing care. With an estimated 150,000 cases of hepatitis C, North Carolina can expect to spend between $15 and $45 billion on treatment over the lifetimes of these patients.

This information is from the Human Rights Watch’s article: ”We Know What to Do, Harm Reduction and Human Rights in North Carolina,” with permission by Human Rights Watch.