World Hepatitis Day is observed annually on July 28th, the birthday of Dr. BaruchBlumberg (1925–2011) who discovered the hepatitis B virus in 1967, and 2 years later, developed the first hepatitis B vaccine. Viral hepatitis affects millions of people worldwide, causing more than one million deaths each year. Organizations across the globe, including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize World Hepatitis Day as an opportunity to educate and raise awareness about viral hepatitis. This year’s theme of World Hepatitis Day is to Find the Missing Millions.

The CDC estimates that there are 2.4 million people living with Hepatitis C and about 50% of these individuals do not know they are infected. Hepatitis A and B are preventable through vaccination, but there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. People with chronic hepatitis C can live for years without symptoms or feeling sick and left untreated, it can cause liver disease, liver cancer, and even death. Hepatitis C is curable and for most people it involves taking oral medications for 8-12 weeks and cures over 90% of people with few side effects.

To help address the impact of Hepatitis C in Western North Carolina, CareReach operates a bridge counseling program that links individuals to medical care for treatment and to community resources that support an individual’s overall health and wellness. Bridge counselors are available in several counties throughout NC, including five counselors across the western part of the state. We are fortunate to have Michelle Goyeau, LCSW, LCAS, as the Bridge Counselor at CareReach.

Initially funded by the NC Division of Public Health, the Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services assumed support of the program in 2019 and CareReach is pleased to announce the continued funding of the program for FY 2020-2021.

Since the inception of the program in December 2017, a total of 304 individuals have been referred to Bridge Counseling. More than 50% (168) of individuals responded to outreach and chose to enroll in the program.Through June 30th, 2020, 68 individuals have completed treatment, and 45 individuals have completed their 12-week post treatment lab work and have been cured of Hepatitis C.

CareReach is also proud to announce another facet of our work improving care for individuals with Hepatitis C. Sarah Hensley, a peer support specialist with the McDowell Impact program, works with individuals in recovery who have been diagnosed with an infectious disease. She has recently been accepted to a peer advocacy program called Hepatitis Ambassadors for Change where she will have access to further harm reduction training, participate in advocacy efforts and receive certification as a trainer on Hepatitis-related topics.

On World Hepatitis Day, and every other, CareReach is honored to be part of the effort to improve care and health outcomes for individuals living with, and treating, Hepatitis C.