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RALEIGH — More than 175,000 people currently living in North Carolina have been diagnosed with chronic viral hepatitis, and many more may have hepatitis but do not realize they are infected, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

To address this important health issue, Gov. Roy Cooper has proclaimed May as Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19 as Hepatitis Testing Day.

During Hepatitis Awareness Month, NCDHHS is encouraging residents to learn the risks of liver disease, to be tested for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C if they have any concerning symptoms, and to be screened for chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C if they meet criteria set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, often caused by a virus. Symptoms of hepatitis can include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-colored stools and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Many people with hepatitis do not have symptoms and do not know they are infected. Symptoms of chronic viral hepatitis can take decades to develop.

“The most important message for anyone who is at risk is to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B to prevent infection. It is also important to get tested and to seek treatment if you are infected,” said Zack Moore, state epidemiologist. “Viral hepatitis is preventable and manageable with the proper diagnosis and medical care.Getting vaccinated and tested could save your life.”

The most common types of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis B and C are spread by exposure to blood from an infected person, which can happen when sharing equipment used for injections, tattoos or piercings. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through sexual contact. Hepatitis A is spread by fecal-oral transmission, most often by exposure to contaminated food or water or through sexual contact or improper hygiene practices.

Everyone can help to prevent the spread of hepatitis by getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, practicing safe sex, washing hands, sterilizing blood-contaminated equipment such as tattoo or piercing instruments and never sharing or reusing injection, drug use or medical supplies.

The CDC also recommends everyone between the ages of 18 and 79 receive a one-time only screening for hepatitis C. In addition, pregnant women should be screened for hepatitis C once during each pregnancy, and those with risk factors should be screened yearly. While there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there is a cure.

NCDHHS encourages all North Carolinians to speak with their health care provider or local health department about hepatitis testing and vaccination. More information can be found at www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.

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