Cheyenne, Wyo. - The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) has recently detected a cluster of hepatitis C infections among injection drug users in Converse County.
“We know most people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus do so by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs,” said Dr. Tracy Murphy, state epidemiologist with WDH. “With this cluster of three confirmed cases so far, some of the infected persons have reported sharing injection drug use equipment.”
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by a blood-borne virus. For some hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for 70–85 percent of people it can become a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C is serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, even death.
“Because most infected persons are not ill and may not be aware of their infection, we are encouraging healthcare providers across Wyoming to evaluate their patients’ risk for hepatitis C, including injection drug use, and to conduct hepatitis C testing if needed,” Murphy said.
WDH offers free or low-cost testing for hepatitis C to Wyoming residents. Vouchers for testing are available online at www.knowyo.org.
Murphy said testing is important because most people infected with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. For those who do, symptoms may include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), clay-colored stool, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and fever.
Murphy said the best way to prevent hepatitis C is to avoid behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. “For those who can't or won't stop injecting, the infection risk can be reduced by using sterile, unshared syringes, needles, and other equipment (cotton, rinse water, cookers, etc.); ensuring a clean surface before putting down equipment; and not dividing drugs with used equipment.”