Lincoln County Seeing “Uptick” in Hepatitis C and Two Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Lincoln County Public Health recorded 30 cases of hepatitis C in the first three months of 2014. The disease affects the liver and is most commonly spread through intravenous drug use.

By Larry Coonrod

NEWPORT—According to Lincoln County Public Health Director Rebecca Austen, the county is experiencing an increase in Hepatitis C and two sexually transmitted diseases. 

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Austen this week briefed the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, which also serve as the county health board, on the 2014 communicable disease report.

Upward Trend

Last year the county recorded 109 cases of chlamydia. In the first three months of 2015 there were 36 reported cases. Hepatitis C shows a similar trend, with 30 cases reported through March compared to 106 for all of 2014.

Four new gonorrhea cases through March nearly equal the five total cases of the disease in 2014.

Gonorrhea is becoming difficult to eradicate with traditional treatments, Austen said. 

In 2014, the county recorded two news cases of HIV and three cases of syphilis. The health department recorded one case of syphilis in the first quarter of 2015 and no HIV cases.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are transmitted through sexual contact while hepatitis C is commonly spread through needles during intravenous drug use. Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. 

Austen says the cases represent a “social justice issue.”

“So in other words, people who are homeless, people that have addiction problems and people who are incarcerated tend to be the ones that in our community are spreading the diseases,” she said.

Austen said transients coming into the area from around the state with the diseases contributes to the problem. 

“They come into our community and these diseases spread rapidly,” she said.

Two county communicable disease nurses work to eradicate communicable diseases, including going into the county jail where many of the cases are first diagnosed.

Social Justice Issue

Before receiving the communicable disease report, commissioners issued a proclamation declaring April Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. According to a 2012 report, Lincoln County has the highest child abuse rate in the state. 

Austen pointed to child abuse as a social justice issue that can put victims on a path that leads to drug abuse and its associated health risks. 

“People who have trauma in their lives, especially at a young age, tend to be the people who have these other chronic conditions,” she said. “So if we can do this upstream work of preventing child abuse, we will go a long ways toward keeping people from using drugs and being infected with hepatitis c.

Contact Reporter Larry Coonrod by emailing [email protected]

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