RALEIGH — 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,” said State Communicable Disease Director Evelyn Foust.
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.