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Hepatitis B And C Are Rising: Drug Users And Baby Boomers At Risk

man using syringe
Urban Seed Education via flickr, Creative Commons
Health officials say injection drug use is the highest risk factor for Hepatitis B and C.

New cases of hepatitis B and C have risen significantly in North Carolina in recent years. In response, state health officials are warning those at a higher risk for the infection to get tested. 

Injection drug use is the highest risk factor. It may not come as a shock that the rise in hepatitis cases also correlates with a recent rise in cases of opioid use, which some drug users take intravenously. But drug users aren't the only ones at a higher risk.

Baby boomers -- those born between 1945 and 1960 -- make up almost half of all patients with Hepatitis C, according to Christina Caputo, the state health department's hepatitis program manager.  Prior to 1992, there wasn't an accurate test for hepatitis C, she said. It's recommended that baby boomers get at least one lifetime test for hepatitis C.  

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Both types B and C can lead to long-term liver problems, including chronic infection and cancer. Symptoms of the disease might not appear until later in life.

The state Department of Health and Human Services reports that 172 new cases of hepatits B and 186 cases of hepatitis C were reported across North Carolina in 2016. That's a more than 50 percent increase in reported cases of each type since 2014. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the actual number of infections of hepatitis B is likely seven times higher than reported and 14 times higher for hepatitis C.

Health officials recommend that those at risk get tested and consider getting vaccinated for hepatitis B, which is incurable. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it is can be cured.  


Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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