Governor Cooper, NCDHHS Promote Hepatitis Awareness, Encourage Vaccination, Testing

Raleigh

Chronic viral hepatitis affects more than 230,000 people in North Carolina, and because many more may have hepatitis but do not realize they are infected until they have symptoms, Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, and May 19 as Hepatitis Testing Day.

During Hepatitis Awareness Month, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging residents to learn the risks of the liver disease and get tested for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. While each can produce similar symptoms each hepatitis has a different route of transmission.

“The most important message for anyone who is at risk for any type of hepatitis is to get vaccinated to prevent infection. It is also important to get tested and seek treatment if you are infected,” said State Health Director and DHHS Chief Medical Officer Elizabeth Tilson, M.D., MPH. “Hepatitis is preventable and manageable with the proper diagnosis and medical care. Getting vaccinated and tested could save your life.”

Reported cases of hepatitis in North Carolina have increased significantly in the past decade. Since 2009, there has been a 500 percent increase in reported cases of hepatitis C, and new cases of hepatitis B viral infections have doubled since 2013. There is an ongoing, nationwide outbreak of hepatitis A linked to homelessness, sexual contact between men and intravenous drug use.

While HIV, intravenous drug use and unsafe sex practices increase the risk of contracting hepatitis, there are also other factors to consider. A person’s age, ethnicity, medical history or lifestyle could contribute to his or her level of risk. Baby Boomers - people born from 1945-1965 - are five times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C due to lack of screening and limited infection prevention strategies prior to 1992. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Baby Boomers receive a one-time only screening for hepatitis C, barring any additional risk factors. While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there is a cure.

People living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes have higher rates of hepatitis B than the general population, especially if they share diabetes-care equipment such as fingerstick devices, syringes or insulin pens. 

Hepatitis A, B and C are spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected, while hepatitis A can also be spread through food, water or objects that have been in contact with an infected person. Anyone can help to prevent the spread of hepatitis by getting vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, practicing safe sex, never sharing medical supplies and sterilizing blood-contaminated equipment such as tattoo or piercing instruments. 

The Division of Public Health encourages all North Carolinians to speak with their health care providers about hepatitis testing and vaccination. Anyone who does not have a health care provider should visit a local public health agency for these services. Those at risk or who think they may have been exposed to hepatitis can take a five-minute online assessment which generates a personalized report on hepatitis testing and vaccination recommendations.

The latest North Carolina hepatitis data is available at NC HAV outbreak data. Information on safer syringe exchanges in North Carolina can be found through the NC Safer Syringe Exchanges Programs

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