Rates of hepatitis C infections more than tripled in four Appalachian states from 2006 to 2012, fueled by prescription drug abuse among those who inject drugs, especially in rural areas, U.S. health officials said on Thursday. 

National data show rising rates of hepatitis C virus infection across the nation, with the biggest increases among people under age 30 living in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, according to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In those four states alone, hepatitis C infections rose 364 percent from 2006 to 2012. Nearly half of those cases (44.8 percent) were among people under age 30.

Of the cases for which researchers gathered data about potential risk factors, 73.1 percent reported injecting drugs.

The CDC warned that while rates of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are currently low in these four states, the increase in hepatitis C infections raises concerns about HIV infections, which are also often spread by contaminated needles.

The agency said the findings highlight the need for testing for hepatitis C, care and treatment services within substance abuse treatment centers.

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver infection spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Some 3 million Americans are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, according to the CDC. Many people are infected without knowing it. Chronic infections can cause liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.