Sharing needles through opioid and heroin abuse is fueling a massive increase in hepatitis C infections of young people in four Appalachian states, according to new data.
Cases in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia increased by a whopping 364 percent from 2006 to 2012 for people ages 12 to 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the data on Thursday.
A major reason is injection drug use, which represented 73 percent of the infections.
Sharing needles amongst users is one of the top ways hepatitis C can spread.
While heroin abuse is a factor in the rise, a majority of infections were due to injecting opioids, the agency said.
From 2006 to 2012, rehab admissions for opioid dependence increased more than 20 percent in each of the states. A majority of those admissions cite injection use as their primary method of getting high.
CDC examined the geographic areas and ages with the most infections and found a majority were white people who lived in rural areas.
Injection drug use is also causing similar public health outbreaks. For instance, an outbreak of HIV in an Indiana county is linked to injecting the painkiller Opana.
The agency noted that the analysis has some limitations, including underreporting of infections.
CDC called for the need for integrated health services in central Appalachia.
"Because persons who inject drugs underutilize health services, additional efforts are urgently needed to enlist them into substance abuse treatment, ensure they are tested for [hepatitis C], and link those with [hepatitis C] infection into care to receive appropriate treatment," the agency said.