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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
NEW YORK: Cortland Hepatitis C Outbreak Worsens: County Considers Needle Exchange for Drug Users
James T. Mulder
February 16, 2012
Post-Standard (Syracuse) (02.15.12) - Thursday, February 16,

Nine of the 10 newly diagnosed hepatitis C cases in Cortland County this year are people younger than 35, an unusually high number that is getting the attention of area health officials. Many of the cases are linked to drug injection.

Blood-borne hepatitis C can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis, and it is usually seen in baby boomers, said Catherine Feuerherm, Cortland's public health director. The county began seeing a spike in cases among younger people last summer: Of the 21 new cases logged last year, 15 were people 35 and under. That compares to just two younger people among 14 new hepatitis C cases in 2010.

Health officials suspect they may be seeing just the tip of the iceberg. "We're trying to figure out how big it is," said Feuerherm.

Provided there is community support, the county may ask the Southern Tier AIDS Program to provide needle exchange for IV drug users in the city of Cortland "at least on a short-term basis to stop the spread of hepatitis C," said Feuerherm. STAP currently provides syringe-exchange services in Johnson City and Ithaca.

Chronic hepatitis C can remain symptomless for 20 or more years. There is no vaccine to prevent infection, but effective treatments are available. The county is urging anyone in Cortland who thinks they may be at risk to get tested for hepatitis C at the Health Department. Telephone 607-753-5027 to make an appointment.

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