Viral hepatitis affects as many as 400 million people worldwide, contributing to nearly 4,000 deaths each day. In North Carolina, an estimated 160,000 people are infected with hepatitis C and most are unaware of their infection.
Today the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services joins with other partners in recognizing World Hepatitis Day to draw attention to this hidden epidemic.
"Hepatitis affects individuals from communities across North Carolina," said Dr. Randall Williams, DHHS Deputy Secretary of Health Services. "Raising awareness about hepatitis is crucial to stem the tide of new infections and help ensure that treatment is provided to those who need it."
Viral hepatitis is caused by infection with viruses such as hepatitis A, B and C. All hepatitis viruses can cause inflammation of the liver, and chronic hepatitis B and C can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis C, the most common blood-borne viral infection in the United States, is known as a silent killer because there are often no symptoms until significant liver damage has occurred.
Hepatitis B can be transmitted through sex with an infected person, or passed from mother to child. Hepatitis B and C can be spread through sharing of needles or other injection supplies.
The good news is that hepatitis A and hepatitis B can be prevented with safe, effective vaccines. Over the last several decades there has been a more than 90 percent decrease in hepatitis A and B cases in the U.S, and many experts attribute this decline to an increase in the routine vaccination of infants, children and other people at risk for hepatitis.
If you are unsure of your vaccination status, check with your doctor. While there is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C, new treatments are remarkably successful in curing the disease. People infected with viral hepatitis should also take steps to protect the health of their liver by avoiding alcohol and other drugs that affect the liver.