services and tight-knit social circles have created a perfect storm for
the spread of the hepatitis C virus in Appalachia.
University of Kentucky researchers have tracked
cases of this highly infective virus in Appalachian drug users, with
evidence that most new cases are affecting people under the age of 25.
Since 2008, a research team led by Dr. Jennifer Havens, an
epidemiologist in the University of Kentucky Center for Drug and Alcohol
Research, has conducted routine testing and interviews with 500 drug
users in Perry County. The goal of the study is to gain a better
understanding the social and behavioral risk factors that contribute to
the area’s prevalence of hepatitis C, and ultimately use the knowledge
to develop interventions aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.
Every six months, participants in the study engage in live interviews
regarding drug use behaviors, sexual activity and social networks. In
addition, researchers test participants for hepatitis C (HCV), herpes
simplex II (HSV-2) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The study has retained 95 percent of participants through five years,
allowing the researchers to map support networks, drug use networks and
sexual networks, as well as identify systemic changes in the drug use
community. The researchers are also interested in monitoring the
population for cases of HIV, a disease that has not yet been detected in
the population but would transmit quickly if introduced.