WSFA/NBC - Hepatitis C is most commonly found in older adults but now there's evidence the virus is affecting a much younger generation.
A new report is startling and shows a rise in the number of newborn babies at risk for Hepatitis C. That's because infections among pregnant women have nearly doubled since 2009.
Doctors who specialize in caring for the sickest babies say the nation's opioid epidemic is to blame.
Dr. Stephen Patrick from Vanderbilt University Medical Center said, "We know that using opioids, particularly injecting opioids, is the principal reason why people contract Hepatitis C virus."
The study from Dr. Patrick finds marked increases in rural areas of Tennessee and in West Virginia where 1 in 50 babies are born exposed to Hepatitis C.
"In my neonatal intensive care unit, I have personally seen an increase in Hepatitis C virus, particularly among infants that have opioid withdrawal," said. Patrick.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed the nation's drug problem recently when he said, "I really believe this epidemic of opioid abuse is a crisis, it's ravaging our communities".
Newborns cannot be tested for Hepatitis C so they must be followed for 18 months until doctors can determine if they've been infected.
Some children have been known to clear the virus on their own. Others can start treatment for the virus around age three.