With the opioid crisis, a new epidemic emerges

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Hepatitis C: it’s the liver disease some doctors thought might one day be eradicated, but now there’s a resurgence across the country and here in Commonwealth.

“In 2015 we counted over 8,000 cases of Hepatitis C,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Laurie Forlano explained.

That’s up from about 6,000 in 2014, and doctors around the state say the number of infected patients in Virginia also continues to rise.

“We have seen a 28 percent increase in the rate of reported Hepatitis C cases between 2015 and 2016,” says Henrico Health District Director Dr. Susan Fischer Davis.

“In 2016, I am anticipating our final count will be over 11,000 cases statewide and that’s new unique cases every single year,” Dr. Forlano added.

While the disease can be transmitted sexually, most of the cases in Virginia are linked to needle using drug addicts who have turned to heroin when they can no longer afford or get the prescription pain pills they’ve become hooked on.

Perhaps even more concerning, there could be many more unknown cases out there.

“Many people who have hepatitis C don’t even know they have infection,” Dr. Forlano said. “They can go asymptomatic for quite some time.”

Yet, if not detected and treated early, hepatitisC can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. To combat the spread of the disease, the General Assembly just passed a bill to provide clean needles to injection drug users.

“It will be a focused effort in communities that are at highest risk,” Dr. Forlano said.

Anyone who is or has been an injection drug user should get tested for the disease. It can be treated, and there are even cures if detected early.

There are a number of clinics in our area that offer free screenings. Click here for a list of them.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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