Teen and young adults who consume opioid and other drugs are at higher risk of developing the infectious disease of hepatitis C, according to a new study released at a medical conference being held here this week.
The study is the first to look at opioid use and hepatitis C testing in at-risk youth, and researchers found that most of the vulnerable population are not tested for risks of infectious disease and therefore don't receive life-saving treatment, said the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), one of the four organizers of the IDweek 2018 San Francisco, a joint conference of four American medical associations.
The researchers reviewed electronic medical records for 269,124 teens and young adults aged between 13 and 21 years old, who visited one of 57 Federally Qualified Health Centers in 19 states from 2012 to 2017.
Among the 875 people who were diagnosed with opioid use disorder (OUD), only 36 percent were tested for hepatitis C, of whom 11 percent had been exposed to hepatitis C and 6.8 percent had evidence of chronic hepatitis C infection.
Hepatitis C, which is an infection of liver, killed more than 18,000 Americans in 2016, the most common cause of death from a reportable infectious disease, said the data of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease can be transmitted by sharing needles used to inject drugs, and people who fail to receive timely medical treatment may develop liver failure, liver cancer, or chronic liver disease (cirrhosis) many years after being infected.
The study examined a total of over 250,000 at-risk young adults and many of them were overlooked during opioid crisis as only one-third of those diagnose with OUD were actually tested for hepatitis C.
"Screening for OUD and other drug use, and then testing for hepatitis C in those at high risk, can help us do a better job of eliminating this serious infection," said Rachel L. Epstein, lead author of the study, who is a research fellow at the Boston Medical Center.
Teens and young adults who are not screened for opioid or other drug use for lack of time or other reasons is "an overlooked group that is at high risk" of hepatitis C, Epstein said.
IDweek 2018, which opened in San Francisco on Oct 3 and is expected to end on Sunday, is an annal medical conference aimed at advancing science and improving care. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. in early October next year.