In honor of Hepatitis Awareness Month in May, the Jackson County Department of Public Health recommends that residents learn more about viral hepatitis as well as determine if they should get tested or vaccinated against this chronic disease. The most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. While each can produce similar symptoms, each hepatitis virus affects the liver differently, has different transmission routes, and has different populations that are commonly affected.
North Carolina’s hepatitis A and hepatitis B rates have declined by more than 65% between 1999 and 2008, largely attributed to vaccination practices. Yet since 2008, North Carolina has seen an increase in hepatitis C rates—an increase that has exceeded that of the United States. No vaccination exists to prevent hepatitis C.
Baby boomers, or those born from 1945-65, are five times more likely to have hepatitis. The reason why baby boomers have higher rates is not completely understood. Others at risk for the disease include those who inject drugs, those who have a history of injecting drugs, and those who are HIV positive. It is recommended that anyone who falls into one of these categories get tested for hepatitis C. Currently, those who fall into one of these categories can get tested for hepatitis C for free at local Health Departments while supplies last.
The Health Department now offers the assistance of a Regional Hepatitis C Bridge Counselor who serves the eight counties west of Asheville (Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon, Swain, Jackson, Haywood, and Transylvania). The Counselor will work to address the burden of hepatitis C by providing disease specific education to people infected with hepatitis C, linking people with hepatitis C to treatment providers, and collaborating with the community to build partnerships and resource networks.
For more information about getting tested for hepatitis C or about the Regional Hepatitis C Bridge Counselor, call Sally Sutton at 828-587-8291.