The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has issued an alert in response to the rising numbers of hepatitis B and hepatitis C cases across the state. In reviewing preliminary data from 2014 to 2016, health officials were able to determine that hepatitis B cases have increased by 56 percent and hepatitis C cases have increased by 69 percent.
Evelyn Foust, the State Communicable Disease Director is encouraging North Carolina residents to educate themselves about hepatitis B and C and to speak with their primary care physician or local health department about getting tested for these infections.
The word “hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. It also refers to a family of viral infections that affect the liver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Hepatitis B infection is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C infection is caused by the Hepatitis C virus (HCV). Both viruses are transmitted through bodily fluids. Transmission can occur through sex (more common in HBV), at birth from mother to baby, through drug use when sharing needles or syringes, and by sharing toothbrushes, razors, or other items that may come in contact with blood.
Cases of hepatitis B and C can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Chronic cases can lead to liver cancer or liver failure. Many people are unaware they are infected because they do not exhibit symptoms.
Preliminary data showed that 172 new cases of hepatitis B and 186 new cases of hepatitis C were reported in North Carolina in 2016. In 2014, there were 110 new cases of hepatitis B and C reported across the state.
However, the CDC believes the actual number of hepatitis B cases were at least seven times higher, and hepatitis C cases were at least 14 times higher than those reported. It is estimated that somewhere between 25,000 and 66,000 people in North Carolina have chronic hepatitis B and somewhere between 110,000 and 150,000 people have chronic hepatitis C.
Health officials in the state say hepatitis C cases have been on the rise since 2009, with one big risk factor of contracting the infection being injected drug use. The largest number of cases have been diagnosed among the western counties, affecting white men between the ages of 21 and 40 the most.
To protect against the spread of hepatitis B and C, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is advising citizens to refrain from sharing needles, syringes, or other injection materials. In addition, health officials are encouraging people to get the hepatitis A and B vaccination. Currently, no vaccine is available for hepatitis C.
Those born between the years 1945 and 1965 (aka baby boomers) are more likely to be infected with hepatitis C. Therefore, health officials are encouraging this age group to get tested.
By Trixie Dillwood