(HealthDay News) — The prevalence of hepatitis C (HCV) infection among pregnant women nearly doubled between 2009 and 2014, according to research published in the May 12 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The study reviewed birth records from 2009 to 2014. Researchers found wide variations in HCV prevalence at delivery, with rates from states reporting HCV on the birth certificate increasing 89 percent, from 1.8 to 3.4 per 1,000 live births. Increases were most notable in West Virginia and rural counties in Tennessee, areas strongly affected by the heroin and opioid epidemic, the CDC reported. Nationwide, 35 infants a day were exposed to HCV, on average.

In West Virginia, the investigators found that more than one in 50 newborns were exposed to HCV at the time of childbirth. In Tennessee, about one in 100 babies were exposed to the virus during delivery. Rates were three times as high in rural areas of the state compared to urban counties. Nationwide, the HCV rate among mothers-to-be was 3.4 per 1,000 live births in 2014. Regions hardest hit by opioid overdose deaths were also most likely to see increases in HCV infection.

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The findings indicate that women of childbearing age need access to HCV testing and treatment, senior author Carolyn Wester, M.D., the medical director for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and viral hepatitis at the Tennessee Department of Health, said in a Vanderbilt University news release.

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