MENU
component-ddb-728x90-v1-01-desktop

Hepatitis B and C on the rise in North Carolina

State health officials are encouraging North Carolinians to help stop the spread of hepatitis B and hepatitis C by getting tested and observing safe injection practices. Preliminary data shows that between 2014 and 2016, new cases of hepatitis B increased by 56 percent and new cases of hepatitis C increased by 69 percent. (Photo credit: WLOS Staff)

State health officials are encouraging North Carolinians to help stop the spread of hepatitis B and hepatitis C by getting tested and observing safe injection practices. Preliminary data shows that between 2014 and 2016, new cases of hepatitis B increased by 56 percent and new cases of hepatitis C increased by 69 percent.

Hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver, includes viral hepatitis types A, B and C. New, or acute, cases of types B and C can develop into chronic infections, and long-term chronic infections may lead to health problems including liver failure and liver cancer.

“We encourage North Carolinians to learn more about hepatitis B and C and talk to their physician or local health department about getting tested,” State Communicable Disease Director Evelyn Foust said.

Based on preliminary data, 172 new cases of hepatitis B and 186 new cases of hepatitis C were reported across the state in 2016. In 2014, there were 110 new cases each of type B and type C reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the actual number of infections is likely seven times higher than the number of reported cases of hepatitis B and 14 times higher for hepatitis C.

An estimated 110,000 to 150,000 North Carolinians have a chronic hepatitis C infection, and 25,000 to 66,000 have a chronic hepatitis B infection. Many people do not experience symptoms and are unaware they are infected.

Hepatitis B and C can spread when blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected, frequently through the sharing of needles or other injection equipment. Hepatitis B, and less often hepatitis C, can also be spread through sex with an infected partner.

Hepatitis C has been on the rise in the state since 2009, with injection drug use being the biggest risk factor. Most diagnoses have been in white males from 21 to 40 years old and western border counties have been impacted the most. Adults born between 1945 and 1965 are also more likely to have hepatitis C and are encouraged to get tested.

To protect against viral hepatitis, the Division of Public Health recommends that people avoid sharing needles or other injection equipment and get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Those diagnosed with viral hepatitis should speak to their physician about treatment options.

More information on viral hepatitis can be found on the Division of Public Health website.

Free Hepatitis C Testing Available

As the incidence of acute hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection associated with injection drug use in North Carolina continues to rise, the North Carolina Division of Public Health is providing free HCV testing at the Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency for all persons who are Medicaid-eligible or uninsured, through partnership with the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health (SLPH). This free HCV testing will be available through at least the end of calendar year 2017 as long as resources are available.

The criteria for free HCV testing are specific and limited to those who are at highest risk for HCV infection. At this time, this will include only:

  • People who currently inject drugs (PWID);
  • People with a history of injecting drug use;
  • People who are HIV positive
  • People born between 1945 and 1965 (only once unless other risk factors above are present),in accordance with CDC screening recommendations

Patients with private insurance should be referred to their primary care provider for further follow up.

Patients on Medicaid or Medicare should utilize that coverage to seek further care.

The Haywood County Health & Human Services Agency is located at 157 Paragon Parkway, Clyde, NC 28721. Appointments can be made by calling (828) 356-2241.

Trending