Opioid Epidemic Affecting HCV Infection in Adolescents (as well as adults)

SA Barritt et al. J Pediatr 2018; 192: 159-64. Increasing Prevalence of Hepatitis C among Hospitalized Children Is Associated with an Increase in Substance Abuse

Background:  “After a sustained decline in new HCV cases, in recent years there has been a significant increase in HCV incidence in adults in many areas, primarily associated with the use and abuse of intravenous heroin and prescription opioids.” This study examines this trend in adolescents.

From abstract:

Study design

We examined hospitalizations in children using the Kids’ Inpatient Database, a part of the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. We identified cases using the International Classification of Diseases, 9th edition, codes for HCV infection during 2006, 2009, and 2012. Nonparametric tests for trend were used to calculate trend statistics.


From 2006 to 2012 nationally, the number of hospitalizations of children with HCV increased 37% (2.69 to 3.69 per 10 000 admissions; P < .001). The mean age of children hospitalized was 17.6 years (95% CI, 17.4-17.8). HCV cases among those 19-20 years of age represented 68% of the total HCV diagnoses, with a 54% increase over the years sampled (P < .001 for trend). The burden of HCV in children was highest in whites, those in the lowest income quartile, and in the Northeast and Southern regions of the US (all P < .0001). The prevalence of substance use among children with HCV increased from 25% in 2006 to 41% in 2012 (P < .001).


The increases of HCV in hospitalized children are largely in teenagers, highly associated with substance abuse, and concentrated in Northeast and Southern states. These results strongly suggest that public health efforts to prevent and treat HCV will also need to include adolescents.

My take: Despite the availability of highly effective therapy for hepatitis C, the opioid epidemic undermines any prospect for eliminating hepatitis C infections.

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