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Sharing Snorting Utensils for Drug Use may Increase HCV Transmission

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August 9, 2016

Sharing snorting utensils — more specifically straws — to ingest opiates and other drugs may be considered another risk factor for hepatitis C virus infection and other virus transmission, according to results from a prospective study.

“The idea that ‘if you snort, don’t share straws’ needs to be communicated around the globe as the use of snorting straws for drug use is a common practice, especially for those that prefer that method over intravenous drug use,” Craig Towers, MD, maternal-fetal medicine specialist with High Risk Obstetrical Consultants at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, told Infectious Disease News.

To evaluate possible modes of HCV acquisition in pregnant women in Eastern Tennessee through commonly used routes, Towers and colleagues distributed an anonymous survey to pregnant women with HCV enrolled in their obstetric high-risk clinic from March 2014 to June 2015. Transmission routes studied included IV drug usage, blood transfusion, organ transplant, sexual contact, tattoos, and possible straw transmission.

Craig Towers, MD

Craig Towers

“Previous reports have shown a 364% increase in HCV infections from 2006 to 2012 in the central Appalachian region. The main concern is the transmission of any bloodborne virus, but a huge potential impact of the sharing of snorting utensils is the threat of transmitting HIV, which is more serious than HCV,” Towers said in a related press release.

Overall, 189 women completed the survey, according to the research, and 72% of respondents admitted to IV drug use, with 65% of these patients reporting shared needles (n = 89). Ninety-four percent of the patients reported snorting drugs (n = 178), of which 92% reported sharing straws (n = 164). The researchers observed a difference between the proportion of those reporting the sharing of snorting utensils compared with the proportion of sharing IV drug use utensils (P < .001).

Towers told IDN that 133 of 189 women were unaware of when they became infected with HCV. A total of 127 women were first told they had HCV during a routine prenatal care visit.

Fifty-four straws were confiscated by law enforcement authorities from a different population, according to the research, and 13 tested positive for the presence of human blood.

“Most pregnant women infected are unaware. Hepatitis C screening may need to be considered for routine prenatal care for all pregnant women,” Towers said. – by Melinda Stevens

Disclosure: Towers reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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