‘Epidemic’: Hepatitis C deaths, hospital stays up in Rhode Island

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new report shows a significant increase in diagnoses of hepatitis C in Rhode Island, including hospitalizations and deaths, over the past decade.

The report, “Epidemiological Profile: The Hepatitis C Epidemic in Rhode Island,” prepared by the Rhode Island Public Health Institute (RIPHI), was released Thursday by the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Deaths related to hepatitis C rose from 25 in 2005 to 102 in 2014. That’s based on death certificate data, “which may underreport hepatitis C-related deaths,” according to the Department of Health’s Joseph Wendelken.

The report estimates roughly 16,603 to 22,660 people in Rhode Island (about 2%) are infected with hepatitis C.

Since effective medications are now available to combat hepatitis C, screening is becoming more important, said RIPHI’s Dr. Amy Nunn. “Both baby boomers and anyone who is at high risk, such as people who have used injection drugs or people who received blood transfusions prior to 1992, should ask their physicians to screen them for hepatitis C.”

The hepatitis C virus can cause a liver disease, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to becoming chronic and life-long. Chronic hepatitis C affects between 3 and 5 million people in the United States, and the most common blood-borne illness in the country.

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