In a study published July 28th, 2011 in The Lancet,  Paul Nelson, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and colleagues, reported their analysis of  data from multiple international reporting sources. They found that rates of hepatitis C infection among injection drug users (IDUs) were 60 to 80 percent in 25 countries and greater than 80 percent in 12 other countries. Hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. It is the number one reason for liver transplants in the US.

The results show that the top countries for infection were: The United Kingdom (50 percent), New Zealand (52 percent), Australia (55 percent), Spain (80 percent), Norway (76 percent), Germany (75 percent), France (74 percent), United States (73 percent), China (67 percent), Canada (64 percent), Italy (81 percent), Portugal (83 percent), Pakistan (84 percent), the Netherlands (86 percent), Thailand (90 percent) and Mexico (97 percent).

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According to the researchers:

“The public-health response to blood-borne virus transmission in IDUs has mainly centered on HIV. Maintenance and strengthening of the response to HIV in IDUs remains crucial, but the significance of viral hepatitis needs to receive greater attention than it does at present,”

“Efforts to prevent, treat, and reduce harms related to liver disease in IDUs are essential — especially in situations in which HIV has successfully been prevented or managed — because the large numbers of IDUs infected with HCV and significant morbidity resulting from this infection mean that the health and economic costs of HCV transmitted by injected drug use might be as high as (or higher than) those of HIV.”

“Nonetheless, HCV treatment is underused. Part of the reason for this neglect is the high cost, which will remain a substantial barrier to increasing of treatment coverage in low-resource settings until costs are reduced”

Of course, enlightened clean-needle programs and similar measures could substantially reduce the incidence and cost of infections, but only a few countries — conspicuously not including the United States — have seen fit to implement such measures.

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