Given the past two years, one could easily be forgiven for believing that COVID-19 is the only disease in the world.

However, there are diseases and Guilford County is adding a new health position to fight one of the other ones.

The Guilford County Division of Public Health is using $36,000 in grant money to establish a new full-time position dedicated to the prevention of viral hepatitis.

The county’s Division of Public Health has been awarded a $36,000 grant from the Communicable Disease Branch of the NC Division of Public Health to support the hiring of a “Hepatitis Bridge Counselor. ”

The counselor, who will work in Guilford County and other parts of central North Carolina, will conduct “viral hepatitis activities related to prevention messages, screening and testing for hepatitis infections and facilitating linkage to care for people who are infected with Hepatitis C to clinical providers for treatment.”

Over the last decade, North Carolina has seen a steady rise in Hepatitis C cases, largely among intravenous drug users. In fact, in 2020, the most common reported risk factor by people in the state with acute Hepatitis C was drug use by injection. 

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to approve the new position at a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 3.

According to information provided to the commissioners for consideration, in North Carolina, an increasing number of rural white youths have transitioned from oral drug use to intravenous drug use – which has helped lead to an increase in new Hepatitis C infections in the state over the last five years.  However, the highest rates of newly diagnosed acute Hepatitis C occurred among 20 to 39-year-olds – at a rate of 3.3 per 100,000 for that group.

The increase in hepatitis cases largely reflects the trend of moving from prescription opioid abuse using pills to injecting opioids.