Hepatitis Cases Still Rising

Dated I guess – July 11, 2003. Reproduced from: http://www.rense.com/general38/hep.htm

By Christine Robinson Star-Tribune Staff Writer 7-11-3

The number of hepatitis cases in Natrona County climbed to 72 Monday, and health officials are trying to determine which transmission routes to target their prevention efforts.

A nine-page confidential survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being administered to those being tested for the liver diseases.

State Department of Health officials announced two weeks ago that 57 cases of hepatitis B and C had been confirmed since February. Test results take two weeks, and in the past 14 days, 15 more cases were confirmed, according to state hepatitis coordinator Clay Van Houten.

There have been almost as many hepatitis cases reported in Natrona County in the last five months than between 1999 and 2002, Health Department data shows.

Tests for HIV are being administered with the hepatitis tests, but so far no positive HIV tests have been confirmed, Van Houten said. People considered at high risk for the liver diseases are tested free of charge. Others must pay a fee, he said.

City of Casper-Natrona County Health Department spokesman Marty Thone said he believes the confidentiality provision in the survey will make for honest answers about possible transmission routes. But Casper infectious-disease specialist Mark Dowell, M.D., is dubious.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” he said Wednesday. “They think that they will be identified as someone who uses drugs. We are not out to police, though, we just want to help — that’s what we’re here for.

“We count on people being honest, even though they might not feel comfortable, because then we can help them and it’s more of a team effort.”

The questions ask about past sexual and drug-use histories, specifically the number of sex partners, the age of first use of intravenous drugs, and whether the person being tested had injected drugs in the last month.

“The first three questions have to do with drug use, especially injected drug use, and with multiple sex partners,” Thone said. “If people answer no to the first two questions than we don’t typically test them since they wouldn’t be at a high risk.”

Those tested are also asked to list the people with whom they had sexual contact or shared needles. This list is then used by the CDC to track down potential carriers and inform them of the transmission.

“People are usually fairly receptive when we call them,” Dowell said. “They want to know what is going on with themselves, and although it comes as more of a shock to some than others, in the end they typically want to know.”

Officials suspect that the increase in hepatitis B and C cases is the result of a spike in IV methamphetamine use, State Epidemiologist Carl Musgrave said.

“They definitely feel like the recent increase in IV usage is a cause of the outbreak,” Musgrave said of the officials he’s consulting with. “It is not just injections, though, and the researchers want people to know that it is also transmitted by multiple sex partners.

“But they also said based on their experiences that meth was a cause for the outbreak.”

Health officials continue to urge people who may be infected to undergo testing. For more information or to receive a test and/or vaccination, please contact the City of Casper-Natrona County Health Department at 235-9340.


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