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Sharp rise in Hepatitis C cases in Indiana related to opioid crisis

Posted at 6:11 PM, May 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 18:13:46-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Doctors in Indiana are seeing a sharp rise in Hepatitis C cases; something they attribute to the opioid epidemic.

Alicia Suarez talked with RTV6 about being a former Hep C patient, and the growing health issue.

"We knew very little about it, in fact, years previous it was called, 'non a' 'non b,'" Suarez said.

Back in 1995, Suarez was diagnosed with Hepatitis C.

"It was especially scary to tell new friends, partners, stuff like that," Suarez said.

Suarez was cleared of Hep C, but 24 years later, doctors see a spike in the virus that transmitted through contact of contaminated blood.

"With the opioid epidemic that's come out, the number of new cases has really surprised a lot of people," Erica Kaufman-West, infectious disease physician, said.

Data shows that 50,000 Hoosiers have the virus, and some might not even know it.

"It doesn't do damage over the short term, which is why a lot of people are surprised that they have it," Kaufman-West said.

People can contract Hep C through things like sharing syringes and unsterile tattoo needles.

Suarez says a big issue is a stigma attached to having Hep C, so people are scared to get help.

"Yeah, people treat people with Hepatitis C horribly," Suarez said.

Suarez says to change the stigma people need more education on the virus.

In Marion County right now, you can go to mobile units that test for Hep C and exchange needles at two different locations in Indianapolis. The Damien Center on Wednesdays and Fridays will be outside of the Brookside Community Church. The Damien Center hopes to add more soon to help curb the growing issue.

"Areas where we can do widespread screening, for example, to really educate, so here are those risk factors and if you fall into that category see your doctor or just come right here and get tested," Kaufman-West said. "Those are big ways that we can identify these people. "

Instead of asking a Hep C patient how they contracted the virus, Suarez wants you to ask if they have the resources to get help.

"We really need to change that dynamic, because people can be cured," Suarez said.

Suarez hopes that someday this virus can be eradicated.