Acute hepatitis C virus infections more than tripled among young people in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia between 2006 and 2012, investigators reported online May 8 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“The increase in acute HCV infections in central Appalachia is highly correlated with the region’s epidemic of prescription opioid abuse and facilitated by an upsurge in the number of persons who inject drugs,” said Dr. Jon Zibbell at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his associates.

Nationally, acute HCV infections have risen most steeply in states east of the Mississippi. To further explore the trend, the researchers examined HCV case data from the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, and data on 217,789 admissions to substance abuse treatment centers related to opioid or injection drug abuse ( MMWR 2015;64:453-8 ).

Confirmed HCV cases among individuals aged 30 years and younger rose by 364% in the four Appalachian states during 2006-2012, the investigators found. “The increasing incidence among nonurban residents was at least double that of urban residents each year,” they said. Among patients with known risk factors for HCV infection, 73% reported injection drug use.

During the same time, treatment admissions for opioid dependency among individuals aged 12-29 years rose by 21% in the four states, and self-reported injection drug use rose by more than 12%, the researchers said. “Evidence-based strategies as well as integrated-service provision are urgently needed in drug treatment programs to ensure patients are tested for HCV, and persons found to be HCV infected are linked to care and receive appropriate treatment,” they concluded. “These efforts will require further collaboration among federal partners and state and local health departments to better address the syndemic of opioid abuse and HCV infection.”

The investigators declared no funding sources or financial conflicts of interest.