Hepatitis C continuing to spread in the state

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WDTV)-- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of Hepatitis C have been on the rise since the early 2000's.

Approximately 3.2 million people get the virus in the U.S, largely in states affected by the opioid epidemic.

"We try to get people screened, we get them referred to treatment and we give out clean needles so they don't have to share with anyone," said Emily Baldwin, an R.N. at Milan Puskar Health Right.

Hepatitis C is an infection that's often transmitted through blood and needles causing chronic liver disease.

Since West Virginia has one of the highest rates of drug overdoses the epidemic goes hand-in-hand with the prevalence of Hepatitis C cases.

"Just last year, during our Harm Reduction Program, we diagnosed 27 people and got them referred to treatment and that's not even counting our regular primary care patients who've been screened," said Baldwin.

Milan Puskar Health Right's Harm Reduction program administers clean injection supplies such as tourniquets, cookers, alcohol wipes and syringes.

Even though it may seem like it could feed into the drug problem, officials say it can at least be a first step in recovery.

"The way addiction works, people are going to use regardless. It's more important to get them in the door, so we can talk to them, get them their clean stuff and once they're ready, get them set up with services they may need," said Baldwin.

Baldwin says about 40 people use the program on the days it's offered and since they're screening more they're seeing a rise in Hepatitis C cases.

The virus can also stick around and many people won't even know.

"Outside of the body, on a surface, it can survive for weeks. Most I would say is up to 3, but it can survive on other surfaces not just the syringe," said Baldwin.

Even without insurance those affected can receive proper treatment.

"We can get the medications through the drug company programs and other patient-assistance programs. We'll help people who are uninsured," said Baldwin.

Those who get treated will have the virus cleared from their system in 12 weeks.

The Monongalia County Health Department is another place people can go to for proper treatment.