New research reveals high rates of hepatitis C infection among intravenous drug users and baby boomers seen in urban emergency departments.
And three-quarters of those who tested positive for the potentially deadly virus did not know they were infected, the researchers added.
“Given skyrocketing rates of injection heroin use around the country, we expect the already high rates of hepatitis C infection to explode,” said study author Dr. Douglas White, from Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif.
Hepatitis C is the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States, and it is a leading cause of liver failure, liver cancer and liver transplants.
Researchers said the disease was found in 10 percent of the emergency department patients who were tested, and 70 percent of them had chronic infections. Only 24 percent of the patients who tested positive for hepatitis C knew they were infected.
The study was published online Aug. 6 in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine.
“Intervention by emergency departments, in the form of screening and referral for treatment, could help slow the spread of this potentially deadly, communicable disease,” White said in a journal news release.
“We have a better than even chance of reaching many of the 3 million people who are infected, since they tend to be heavy emergency department users already,” he concluded.
The rate of hepatitis C infection is as high as 4 percent among baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965), who account for 75 percent of Americans with the infection. Almost 2 million baby boomers with hepatitis C do not know they are infected, the researchers said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hepatitis C.