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Acute Hepatitis C cases have skyrocketed in Wisconsin, increasing 450 percent from 2011 to 2015 according to new data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Most infections resulted from injection drug use, officials said, underscoring calls by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for needle exchanges as a way to thwart drug addicts from spreading disease.

“We are in a place that’s been pretty needle exchange positive for the last couple of years now,” said Scott Stokes, director of prevention services at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. “For a while, many different communities didn’t really want to even talk about the possibility of bringing such a program into their community, and now it really is being seen in a different light. It is seen as a tool to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.”

The federal disease control agency released its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report Thursday, looking at whether states promote or prevent access to clean needles.

It shows that Wisconsin law excludes needles and syringes from drug paraphernalia laws.

“So we didn’t have a lot of the issues that many communities had related to legality of (needle exchange) programs,” Stokes said. “And were able to start them without going through a legislative process. So it was very fortunate for us in Wisconsin to begin the programs.”

The report also looks at whether states permit the retail sale of syringes without a prescription.

Wisconsin doesn’t have a law prohibiting over-the-counter sales, but some stores don’t allow them.

The report says Wisconsin’s laws aren’t as comprehensive as states such as Maine, Nevada and Utah, which have fewer barriers to needle exchange programs.

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