Why are young people the fastest growing population for Hepatitis C infections?

NJ Spotlight News | June 13, 2017 | Health Care

By Michael Hill

Dr. Ronald Nahass was the first to document the nearly 42 percent of suburban heroin users 17- to 35-years-old had the hepatitis C virus in 2014 and 2015.

“A very serious health condition,” he said.

Nahass is the president of Infectious Disease Care. He blames the explosion of heroin use and the sharing of needles for the high number.

“So dramatically over the past four or five years there have been really amazing increases in the incidents of hepatitis C,” Nahass said.

ID Care began tracking the prevalence of hepatitis C when a colleague mentioned high numbers among patients in rehab at Princeton House. That led to routine testing and then the study.

What may be more disturbing than the results in the survey is the continued testing, what it revealed recently.

“So just this first quarter of this year now we’ve tested close to six to seven hundred individuals, 40-50 percent of them were positive. That is more patients that we’ve identified than we did in the last couple of years. But we’re testing more. We’ve gotten better at making sure that everybody gets tested,” said Nahass.

Hepatitis C affects and infects the liver and can lead to liver failure or cancer if undetected for years. The symptoms?

“There are none, and that’s why it’s silent — you’re unaware that you’re infected. So the virus affects you, we can measure the presence of the virus by doing certain blood tests, but you don’t know that unless you’ve been tested for the virus, that’s why it’s silent,” he said.

Nahass says the medical profession is now trying to hurdle the many obstacles to getting IV users in to treatment once they get a positive test result which can be devastating.

“Some of the suspect that they may have been exposed by the company that they keep. Some of them, if this is a new diagnosis, it’s somewhat shocking for them, a lot of tears,” said nurse Kathleen Seneca.

Nahass says hepatitis C has a 95 to 97 percent cure rate through medication for eight to 12 weeks.

That’s how he treated recovering addict and former IV user Carissa DiSanto who battled the disease twice after using syringes she had found on the ground.

“When a person is in active addiction, you do whatever you can to get the next fix,” DiSanto said.

DiSanto says there’s no shame in getting help.

“It’s something to take care of. There are many, many options out there and don’t be afraid,” she said.

Are other clinics or places in New Jersey paying attention to this and doing more testing or treating? “I think that the problem for testing is that it’s a cost, so a lot of clinics are not testing, and we need to be testing so that this silent epidemic is more broadly recognized,” said Nahass.

Nahass says ID Care is working to test and educate IV users and eliminate hepatitis C.