Michigan hepatitis C jump tied to opioid crisis

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Michigan’s opioid epidemic coincides with a dramatic increase in hepatitis C infections across the state, including a 473 percent increase of the deadly liver disease among 18-to-29 year olds, according to data released by state health officials Wednesday.

There were 2,060 new hepatitis C cases among 18-to-29 year olds in 2016, compared with 359 in 2005. Among those who shared their drug-use history, 84 percent said they had used intravenous drugs, a major risk factor for the blood-borne virus due to sharing of needles.

Michigan had 11,883 new hepatitis C infections reported in 2016, making it one of the most common reportable diseases in the state, according to an annual Viral Hepatitis Surveillance Report on hepatitis B and hepatitis C released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“There is certainly a link between the outbreak and opioid use,” said Jennifer Eisner, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Hepatitis C infections can lead to hospitalizations, liver cancer, liver transplants, and viral hepatitis deaths, all of which increased in Michigan over the last decade, according to Wednesday’s report.

Vaccines protect against hepatitis A and B, but hepatitis C, which can lead to deadly liver disease, is linked to the growing opioid crisis, health officials said. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, which is spread by contact with blood from somebody infected. Intravenous drug use is considered a primary mode of transmission.

Admissions for treatment for heroin use grew by 187 percent in Michigan between between 2000 and 2016, according to state Health Department data. Deaths caused by heroin overdose increased 624 percent from 2000 through 2015.

Drug overdose deaths increased 18 percent in Michigan from 2015 to 2016, according to the data released Thursday.

There were 2,335 drug-related deaths statewide in 2016, compared with 1,981 in 2015, and most were related to opioids. The data was collected from Michigan death certificates and could change if more records are turned in, according to state health officials.

Michigan ranked 16th nationally when measuring the rate of drug-related deaths in 2015, the latest year available for data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 2,335 overdose deaths in in 2016, officials said 1,689 were opioid-related, up from 1,275 in 2015.

Also in Wednesday’s report, hepatitis B cases have been decreasing because people can vaccinate against the disease. There were 1,284 new cases of hepatitis B in 2016.

The report was released as state health officials continue to investigate an increase in cases of hepatitis A in southeast Michigan. There were 223 cases reported between Aug. 1, 2016, and Aug. 1 in Detroit, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties.

Residents are urged to get vaccinated against the hepatitis A virus and to practice good hand hygiene to keep the disease from spreading. It’s transmitted person-to-person through the ingestion of fecal matter containing the virus, and can be spread through food, water or sexual contact.