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Hepatitis C spreads among drug abusers in Iceland
During the last ten years, 636 individuals have been infected by Hepatitis C. Most of the cases involve substance abusers who share needles. Doctors say this is serious news and that health authorities should take immediate action.
"About 70 percent of those who inject drugs into their veins are infected. That is a very high percentage that can be traced back to individuals using contaminated needles and needles that others have used," Sigurdur B. Thorsteinsson, a senior physician at the Infectious Disease Ward at the National Hospital told Frettabladid.
Thorsteinsson said health authorities should consider providing easier access to disinfected needles for substance abusers.
Doctors fear that the high number of Hepatitis C infections is an indication of an upcoming HIV epidemic; recently three substance abusers who had shared needles were diagnosed as HIV positive. In other countries an HIV epidemic is known to have followed a spread of Hepatitis C.
Three substance abusers were recently diagnosed with HIV infections and hepatitis C. They all knew each other and doctors believe they were infected by sharing needles. Doctors fear an epidemic.
"We have feared infection among groups who share needles for a long time," State Epidemiologist Haraldur Briem told Frettabladid. Briem said three cases of HIV that were diagnosed in a short time span should be considered a warning.
"We always expected such a blow. Hundreds of people take drugs with needles in this country," Briem said, adding that doctors had feared an HIV epidemic among drug abusers since HIV was first diagnosed in Iceland in the 1980s.
It is only a matter of time when there will be an outbreak, the doctor said.
The Directorate of Health is considering providing easier access to disinfected needles for substance abusers, not only to protect them from HIV infections but also from hepatitis C.
In 2006, 11 individuals were diagnosed with HIV in Iceland. Three were diagnosed with AIDS and one died from the disease. In the same year 42 individuals were diagnosed with hepatitis C.
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