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Doctors can do more to protect babies against hepatitis C

Children are arguably our most precious resource. The welcoming of a new life into the world is something that should always elicit joy. Unfortunately, even with all the advances in medical science that have been made, too often failures by health care providers in delivering on their duty of care creates victims that leave families with physical, emotional and financial burdens for a lifetime.

In recent years, the potential threat to newborns has grown to include a wide range of conditions. Among them is the increased use and abuse of opioid medications. Once heralded as the salvation of pain management practice, opioids now are blamed for creating a massive national crisis of addiction.

For many, the need has expanded from prescription pills to injected heroin use. That in turn has led to a significant increase in hepatitis C virus infections in young mothers, and by extension, their babies.

Indeed, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says young adults 18 to 25 represent the largest population of prescription drug abusers, including opioids. And a 2016 study said that 80 percent of heroin users started on opioids.

On the issue of the hepatitis C virus, a Wisconsin study found that the rate of female Medicaid patients with HCV in that state nearly doubled from 2011 to 2015. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the spread of HCV can be traced to increased sharing of syringes by injection drug users. The agency says that means more babies in the womb are exposed to the liver-damaging virus and that transmission occurs in about 6 percent of births nationally.

Researchers say doctors can and should play a bigger role in prevention on this front. They say providers should be doing more to protect babies by testing young women for HCV and better monitoring infants after birth that face a risk of becoming infected.

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