Category: Uncategorized

Whatcom Community Foundation Works to Make Whatcom County Better For Everyone

Left to right: WCF Board Member Mike Bates, WCF President and CEO Mauri Ingram, and WCF Board Chair Aaron Brown.

What if everyone in our community had what they needed to thrive? This is the question and vision that drives Whatcom Community Foundation (WCF).

As one of more than 750 community foundations nationwide, WCF is a charitable organization created through gifts from people who care about a particular place. These funds are pooled for greater impact, and invested in ideas and activities that take a cooperative approach toward making Whatcom County better. In other words, WCF transforms generosity into fuel for what matters most to our community.

“The healthier the place, the healthier the people,” says CEO Mauri Ingram. “One of our goals is to address the factors that underpin good health – things like economic and housing stability, access to healthy food and places to exercise, social connections and support networks — to provide everyone in Whatcom County with an equal chance at a full, healthy life.”

Here is the full list of the areas that the Whatcom Community Foundation focuses on:

  • Community Building
  • Birth to bright future
  • Feeding our local food system
  • Building an inclusive local economy
  • Homes for all
  • Health & Wellness
  • Environment
  • Arts & Culture

Whatcom Community Foundation is a longtime supporter of Unity Care NW. This community anchor has been an integral partner in helping to expand our dental access in Bellingham as well as supporting the creation of our new North Whatcom Health Center. Unity Care NW is also the recipient of donations from individuals who maintain Donor Advised Funds at the Whatcom Community Foundation. In addition to all of this support, they are also participants in our Health Care Champions Sponsorship Program. Click here to find out how your organization can participate in this program and be part of ensuring health care access for everyone.

Recently Whatcom Community Foundation updated and refreshed their website, click here to learn more about the great work they are doing in our community. Thank you, Whatcom Community Foundation, for joining us in the journey to create a stronger and healthier community for everyone to thrive.



The Fascinating Global History of Vaccination

Before vaccination, there was inoculation, a process of producing immunity by introducing an infectious agent onto abraded skin or a mucus membrane. Inoculation was used for thousands of years across many cultures to prevent smallpox, a disfiguring and sometimes deadly disease.



Several accounts describe smallpox inoculation as practiced in China and India in the 1500s. It is difficult to pinpoint when the practice began, as some sources claim it dates back as early as 200 BCE.

17th century Chinese Emperor K’ang, survived a case of smallpox, and then wrote about inoculation in a letter to his descendants:

“…I had it used upon you, my sons and daughters, and you all passed through the smallpox in the happiest possible manner…. In the beginning, when I had it tested on one or two people, some old women taxed me with extravagance, and spoke very strongly against inoculation. The courage which I summoned up to insist on its practice has saved the lives and health of millions of men. This is an extremely important thing, of which I am very proud.”

The method used during K’ang’s time involved grinding up smallpox scabs and blowing the dust into a person’s nostril.


Africa & America

In 1721, a ship arrived in Boston from the West Indies with smallpox on board, and despite precautions, a full-blown epidemic started that infected roughly half of the town’s 11,000 residents. An African-born enslaved man named Onesimus, shared his experience with Cotton Mather, the town’s problematic leading minister and Onesimus’ legal owner. When Mather asked Onesimus if he’d ever had smallpox, he answered “yes and no,” explaining that he had been inoculated in his home country and was now immune to the disease, “people take juice of smallpox and cut the skin and put in a drop.”

Mather interviewed other African-born men and realized that those who had been inoculated were immune to the epidemic currently raging in Boston. Mather pursued a determined course of action, asking doctors to inoculate their patients and the town’s ministers to support the plan. Boston still suffered dreadfully, but thanks to information about a practice dating back untold generations, from people enslaved by white landowners, the terror linked to smallpox began to recede.


Stories of the success of inoculation in New England spread to England and in the 1790s physician Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids in his community generally didn’t become sick with smallpox. He guessed it was because they were often exposed to cowpox, a related disease in cattle that only caused mild illness in humans.

In May of 1796, Jenner inoculated an eight-year-old boy with matter from a cowpox sore on the hand of a milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes. The boy suffered a small rash and felt ill for several days but made a full recovery. In July, Jenner inoculated the boy again, this time with matter taken from a fresh human smallpox sore, to test his immunity. The boy remained healthy.

Jenner published a pamphlet which outlined his success in protecting 23 patients from smallpox infection with material from a cowpox pustule. In fact, the word “vaccine” was coined by Jenner; derived from Variolae vaccinae (Latin for ‘smallpox of the cow’). Even though Jenner used the scratching method to introduce infectious material to his patients, ‘vaccination’ was adopted later as the term for the practice of inoculation by injection with a needle that we use today.


Messenger RNA

Fast forwarding to 1960, messenger RNA (mRNA) was discovered as the cell’s means to encode information needed to fight infections. In late 1987, Robert Malone, a graduate student at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, mixed strands of mRNA with droplets of human fat. The human cells absorbed the mRNA and began producing proteins. Realizing that this discovery might have far-reaching potential in medicine, Malone thought it might be possible to “treat RNA as a drug”.

Since 2010, mRNA vaccines have been studied for influenza, Zika, rabies, and other diseases in animals and humans. Recent technological advancements improved mRNA vaccines’ stability and effectiveness enough for scientists and drug manufacturers to recommend their use for the first time outside of the research lab in the fight against COVID-19.

Currently vaccines for COVID-19, are the only approved mRNA vaccines. They use mRNA that directs cells to produce copies of a “spike protein” on the outside of the coronavirus. Once replicated, the immune system detects the spike protein and creates an immune response to prevent the disease. If the immunized person is exposed to COVID-19, they are less likely to become seriously ill or die from the disease. Researchers are studying how mRNA might be used to develop vaccines for additional infectious diseases and continue the life-saving legacy of vaccination.


Vaccines to Keep You and Your Community Safe this Winter

Aside from the COVID-19 vaccines now available through the miracle of modern science, there are two other vaccinations we can get to help keep ourselves and our community safe. Flu vaccines protect against the four influenza viruses that research indicates to be most common. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot every season with rare exception. A study just this year showed that among adults, flu shots were associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from flu compared with the unvaccinated.

Pneumococcal disease is another serious illness that is caused by bacteria called pneumococcus. In adults the disease can cause pneumonia, blood infections, meningitis, and is sometimes deadly. Pneumovax is a vaccine that protects against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends annual vaccination for all adults 65 years or older and for adults 19 years or older who smoke or have an immunocompromising condition.

If everyone who has been vaccinated for COVID-19 received flu shots and Pneumovax this year as well, countless hospitalizations and deaths could be avoided. Making vaccination a regular part of your health care can prevent future pandemics and save lives.



Volume 6 of Science and Civilisation in China by Joseph Needham

The Life and Death of Smallpox by Ian and Jenifer Glynn

“How an African slave helped Boston fight smallpox” from The Boston Globe:

Timeline of vaccination history

COVID-19 Vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are still be available free of charge at Unity Care NW’s North Whatcom Health Center in Ferndale at 6060 Portal Way.

If transportation is an issue, ask our schedulers about options for helping you get to your appointment.

Call 360-676-6177 for appointments, available Monday – Thursday.

Currently, patients over age of 5 can receive a vaccine at Unity Care NW.

More information is available here.

The state’s vaccine locator can be used by anyone to find an available vaccination appointment locally.



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup now recommend everyone 16 and older receive COVID-19 booster doses at the recommended interval. This decision followed the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to expand emergency use authorization (EUA) for booster doses for 16- and 17- year-olds.

Refer to your vaccination card for the type and date of COVID-19 vaccine administration. You can also get personal vaccination records through the Washington State Immunization Information System (WAIIS) at


Why get vaccinated against COVID-19?

For most people, the best choice is to get the vaccine. Getting vaccinated will help keep you and your family healthy and safe. The vaccines are extraordinarily effective at protecting you from hospitalization and death from the virus. Vaccines will help bring this pandemic to an end. By getting vaccinated, you can help reverse the damage to the economy, prevent more illnesses and deaths in America, and eliminate and eradicate COVID-19.

Go to our COVID-19 News page to find the latest information from America’s medical experts or talk to your provider to make a decision that’s right for you.

Betty was the first patient to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Unity Care NW.

You can help our efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic!



National Issues, Local Support

The American Rescue Plan, the Affordable Care Act, and Your Local Community Health Center
Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW

Everyone deserves to live their healthiest life, but health care continues to elude many Americans. For some, the decision to go to the doctor can still mean the difference between affording basics like food or rent. Copays and high deductibles can keep people from seeking care. Before the Affordable Care Act (also known as the ACA or Obamacare) was signed in 2010, more than 60 million American’s were uninsured. Under the law, cost-sharing reductions helped lower the cost of health care coverage for low-income individuals and families.

While access has gotten better over the last decade, 26.9 million Americans still don’t have health insurance. Even those that have sought insurance under the ACA’s exchanges can find it difficult to choose whether to pay for insurance or go without coverage and hope for the best. In 2019, 74% of uninsured adults said that they were uninsured because the cost of coverage was too high. Recently, as part of Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, subsidies were expanded for health insurance purchased through the ACA marketplace making health benefits much more affordable. This is welcome news, as we know that people without insurance coverage have worse access to care. Three in ten uninsured adults in 2019 went without needed medical care due to cost. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that uninsured people are less likely than those with insurance to receive preventive care and services for major health conditions.

Unfortunately, though, there will still be many Americans who will continue be unable to access needed health benefits due to their own financial realities. While we wait to see how expansion of the ACA will impact the country’s uninsured residents, community health centers are doing all we can to increase the healthy years of life in the communities we serve. The nation’s community health center movement began during the War on Poverty and the facilities were central to advancing racial equity during the civil rights movement. For over 50 years, community health centers have provided whole person health care to underserved populations. In my work at Unity Care NW I’m proud to be a part of this legacy of expanding access to affordable primary medical, dental, behavioral health, and pharmacy services for friends and neighbors of all ages here in Whatcom County.

Unity Care NW is a non-profit health care provider that was started nearly 40 years ago by a coalition of community leaders, health professionals, volunteers, faith-based organizations, and concerned citizens. Wellness programs, mental health counseling, comprehensive dental care and an on-site pharmacy at Unity Care NW makes care for the whole person available in one convenient location. But barriers to care persist outside of our facilities that we must work to address as well.

In 2020, 15% of Unity Care NW patients were unhoused and 51% were living below the poverty line. We know our patients who are unhoused experience higher rates of many chronic illnesses. Through outreach efforts in partnership with social service organizations, Unity Care NW attempts to address the underlying health issues of economically disadvantaged patients. Recently, we announced that $4 Million would be allocated from the Washington State capital budget for a new facility called The Way Station. This unique project, in partnership with Whatcom County, Opportunity Council and PeaceHealth, will provide primary medical, behavioral health, showers and laundry, case management, respite beds and other wrap around services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness to support their journey to permanent housing and a healthier life.

And then there’s COVID. Over the last year I have been truly inspired by the efforts from my co-workers to keep our community safe. We had to move quickly to make changes and update policies. This began with figuring out screening procedures, developing curbside pick-up and delivery programs for our pharmacies, offering telehealth appointments, then respiratory clinics were set up so we could care for our patients who exhibited COVID symptoms without endangering others. We recruited multi-lingual Community Health Workers to help with contact tracing and later, vaccine outreach in communities that can often face complex barriers to health care access. These efforts paid off. 16 months on, we haven’t had a single transmission of the coronavirus in our health centers. When the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out began, we were eager to become a vaccination site and protect our patients and the community at large from the deadly virus.

We began vaccinating community members in January and at first, we struggled to keep up with demand for the COVID-19 vaccine from early adopters. Eventually, it became clear that there were barriers for many of our patients and that outreach was needed to make sure they were getting good information about the vaccines. We produced video messages to send to patients from their primary care providers and other staff to encourage them to get vaccinated. To date we’ve administered nearly 10,000 vaccine doses at our health centers. The thought that we were able to protect so many community members from the risk of hospitalization, long-term debilitating symptoms, and death from COVID gives me hope. While we work to vaccinate more of our community, we are up against a disheartening amount of misinformation. But we’ll keep listening to our patients, reaching out, and having the hard conversations until this is over. The work of a community health center isn’t done until everyone has the opportunity to live their healthiest life.

Need Affordable Health Coverage?

If you need or have lost health care coverage one of our health insurance navigators can help you find a plan that works for you. A special enrollment period is in effect until August 15th for anyone who needs health benefits. Call (360) 788-2669 or go online at to sign up for health insurance.

Data source: Kaiser Family Foundation

I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW.  I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University.  I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 and earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016. 


Lose Your Insurance? You Can Apply for Health Benefits Now!

A Special Enrollment Period for those who are currently uninsured is open through August 15, 2021.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange (WAHBE) will provide a special enrollment period (SEP) to extend the time frame for Washingtonians seeking health coverage. Health coverage is a necessary step to ensure the ongoing health, safety, and well-being of our community during the current pandemic.

What you need to know:

  • Current Washington Health Plan Finder enrollees are not eligible and may not change plans unless you have recently experienced a qualifying life event that allows for a plan change.
  • Enrollment follows the “15th of the month” rule. For example:
    • Enrollments that occur before the 15th of the month will have a coverage start date of the first day of the following month.
    • Enrollments after 15th of the month will have a coverage start date of the month after the next month – the second following month.

How to get started:

  • Call 1-(833) 969-0306 to talk to a enrollment specialist between M-F from 8 am to 5 pm for help through the insurance process.

Immigrant Relief Fund

The Washington COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund was created during the coronavirus pandemic to support people who are ineligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus money. Funding was included in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and approved by the Washington Legislature in the early action bill. Applications for this one-time grant of $1,000 per person will begin on April 21 and run up until May 21, 2021. They will be accepted on a first-come-first-served basis, and the funds will be distributed in June.
To be eligible, individuals must demonstrate that they:
  • Are a Washington state resident.
  • Are at least 18 years of age.
  • Have been significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Are ineligible for the federal stimulus payment or for unemployment insurance benefits due to their immigration status.
  • Have an income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.
If you or someone you know meets these criteria, to apply please go to or call the hotline 844-724-373 available daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Information in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Swahili and Garifuna available here

Spring Wellness Classes

Prevention is at the heart of Unity Care NW’s approach to health care. Eating well, staying active, and self-care can make a big difference in your health and quality of life. The following online wellness classes are being offered this spring. Contact Megan Stephenson for information about any of the following at (360) 296-7185.

        Diabetes Prevention Program:  Day and Evening Classes – Begins April 13


         YMCA’s Actively Changing Together Designed for kids ages 8-14 , parents and/or guardians.


          Dietitian Kitchen: With Unity Care NW Dietitian Nutritionist Antrim Caskey, RDN. – Begins April 13th.


      Chronic Disease Self-Management Class: This class is open to all and begins on April 8th.


April is Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month

Spotlight on Syphilis

With COVID-19 vaccine distribution in full swing, we’re all excited to be seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses are beginning to re-open and people are emerging from a long dark winter of isolation to consider dating again; the timing couldn’t be better for Sexually Transmitted Infection Awareness Month.

This year, the nation’s health care providers are focusing on educating patients about syphilis. Once near elimination, syphilis was surging in the United States again just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In 2018, the United States experienced the highest number and rate of reported syphilis cases in 20 years. From 2014-2018, syphilis rates increased among both males and females, in every region, and among every race/ethnicity. Rates of syphilis went up 71% overall, 61% among men, and 172.7% among women. Men in general, and gay and bisexual men specifically, continue to face the highest levels of syphilis. In recent years, syphilis has also risen among women.

What is Syphilis Again?

Syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications, thankfully it is often simple to cure. Diagnosing syphilis in the early stages makes treatment easier and reduces the likelihood that it will be spread to anyone else.

Syphilis is divided into four stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), with different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection. But calling them “sores” is a little misleading because they are typically painless, making them easy to miss. These sores, also called “chancres,” can usually be found on or around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth. Chancres are usually (but not always) firm, round, shiny and look like open wounds.

Symptoms of secondary syphilis include a body rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild, and they might not even be noticed. During the latent stage, there are often no signs or symptoms. It could seem like you’re all better; making the final stage a big surprise for those who go undiagnosed. The final stage is Tertiary syphilis. Tertiary syphilis is associated with severe medical problems. It can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body. It can cause skeletal deformity, severe headaches, paralysis and dementia.  Neurologic or ocular (eye) syphilis are very serious can occur at any stage.  Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.

How is syphilis spread?

You can get syphilis by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. YES oral sex too! You can find sores on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. Syphilis can also spread from an infected mother to their unborn baby.

What You Can Do to Prevent Syphilis

If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:

  • Use latex barriers or condoms for every act of vaginal, anal, and oral sex throughout the entire sex act (from start to finish). Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a syphilis chancre. Sometimes sores can occur in areas not covered by a condom, so you could still get syphilis from contact with these sores, even if you are wearing a condom.
  • Check for sores, bumps, chancres; any apparent wound on your genitals and keep an eye out for anything that could be a chancre on your sex partner(s). If you see something: say something and delay sexual activity until you can both see a doctor.
  • Get tested – it’s the only way to know if you have syphilis. CDC recommends all sexually active people be tested for specific STDs, including syphilis, at least once a year, and more frequently for those who have multiple or anonymous partners (i.e., at 3- to 6-month intervals).
  • Talk about it! Silence helps to fuel the spread of STDs.
    • Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about your sexual history and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis or other STDs.
    • Talk with your partner about sex and STDs BEFORE you have sex.

If you test positive, syphilis can be cured with the right medicine from your healthcare provider.



Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW

I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW.  I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University.  After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, it became my personal belief that access to high quality primary care was the answer to many of the problems we see in medicine.  I later completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood.  I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016. 


Content source: Centers for Disease Control Division of STD PreventionNational Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB PreventionCenters for Disease Control and Prevention

HIV Testing Awareness

There are more than 1 million people in the US with HIV but unfortunately, even now, many of them don’t know it. The only way to know if you’re HIV positive is to get tested. HIV testing and your options for preventing HIV as well as treating HIV are better than ever. Most tests can be performed with a finger prick, mouth swab or blood test and results can be processed in as fast as 20 minutes with confirmatory testing in a few days. You can work with your health care provider to find the right test for you.

I’m going to assume that, if you are sexually active, you’re aware that condoms are the simplest way to keep yourself safe from HIV infection. When used every time, condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV as well as other STI’s.  However, in terms of HIV infection, medical science has come a long way at providing further measures to help protect you.  Other options include Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), PEP (Post exposure Prophylaxis) or Treatment as Prevention (TAP).

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a pill to prevent HIV. Studies have shown that PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV if taken consistently for people of all genders.  PrEP, “the other blue pill” comes in several forms and is a medication that can help protect you- Talk to your medical provider today to find out which one could be right for you!

PEP Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) means taking medication after potentially being exposed to HIV, to prevent getting it. PEP is for emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after possible exposure to HIV. If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, talk to your health care provider or emergency room provider ASAP.

HIV Treatment as Prevention, also often referred to as Undetectable = Untransmittable, is the concept that if someone living with HIV has an undetectable virus level in their blood, they cannot pass along the virus. If you or your partner(s) are living with HIV, encourage them to get and keep an undetectable viral load by getting and staying in care. Being undetectable is the best thing for their overall health, and it means there is no risk of transmitting HIV to you through sex. Being undetectable, does not, prevent other sexually transmitted infections or diseases, so make sure you and your partner(s) are staying up to date on their STI testing.

Do you know your HIV status? Have up-front conversations about the importance of knowing your status so you can make the best decision to keep you and your partner healthy.

  1. Get tested regularly! The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested, so make testing a part of your regular health care routine. Knowing your status empowers you to make the best decisions for your health.
  2. Yes, everyone aged 13-64 should get tested at least once. Some groups at ongoing risk for getting HIV should be tested more often; at least once per year.
  3. Communication is important, so be open and honest. Talk to your partner and your primary care provider about getting tested and figure out which prevention options are best for you.

Visit to find a testing location near you. You can also buy an at-home testing kit online or at most pharmacies.

Need Affordable Health Coverage?

Is lack of insurance keeping you from getting tested? If you need or have lost health care coverage or had a qualifying life like losing your job or getting divorced, you can call our office and speak to one of our health insurance navigators who can help you find a plan that works for you. President Biden recently opened a special enrollment period to help anyone who has lost or needs health benefits to be able to apply for insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Call (360) 788-2669 or go online at to sign up for health insurance.

For more health information follow @UnityCareNW on Instagram and Facebook.

Content source: Mental Health America,

Kate Wojnicki, ARNP, Unity Care NW
I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW.  I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University.  After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, I completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood.  I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016. 

Hepatitis Awareness Day – July 28th

Every July, World Hepatitis Day provides an opportunity for infectious disease specialists like me to raise awareness of the problem of viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis is actually a group of infectious diseases that affect 325 million people worldwide, causing both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) liver disease. Viral hepatitis causes more than one million deaths each year and while deaths from tuberculosis and HIV have been declining, deaths from hepatitis are increasing.

Hepatitis A

People who get hepatitis A may feel sick for a few weeks to several months but usually recover completely and do not have lasting liver damage. The hepatitis A virus is found in the stool and blood of people who are infected and can be spread when someone unknowingly ingests the virus — even in microscopic amounts — through close personal contact with an infected person or through eating contaminated food or drink. Symptoms of hepatitis A can last up to 2 months and include fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, and jaundice. Hepatitis A is very contagious, and people can even spread the virus before they get symptoms.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen, or other body fluids from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact or sharing drug-injection equipment. Not all people newly infected with HBV have symptoms, but for those that do, symptoms can include fatigue, poor appetite, stomach pain, nausea, and jaundice. For many people, hepatitis B is a short-term illness. For others, it can become a long-term, chronic infection that can lead to serious, even life-threatening health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer. Though, treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.


Both hepatitis A and B are preventable with vaccines. The hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including travelers to certain international countries. The CDC recommends both vaccines for all people who are:

  • Sexually active people who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship (for example, people with more than one sex partner in the past 6 months)
  • Travelers to certain countries, particularly in Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa.
  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who use or inject drugs
  • People who anticipate close personal contact with an international adoptee
  • People experiencing homelessness

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person. Today, most people become infected with the hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment used to prepare and inject drugs. For some people, hepatitis C is a short-term illness, but for more than half of people who become infected with the hepatitis C virus, it becomes a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis C can result in serious, even life-threatening health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with chronic hepatitis C can often have no symptoms and don’t feel sick. When symptoms appear, they often are a sign of advanced liver disease.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. The best way to prevent infection is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, especially injecting drugs. Getting tested for hepatitis C is important, because treatments can cure most people with hepatitis C in 8 to 12 weeks.

Now That You Know

Millions of Americans living with viral hepatitis, yet many don’t know it. People can live without symptoms, but over time, chronic hepatitis B and C can cause serious health problems. Talk to your doctor about getting tested. It could save your life.


Kate Wojnicki, ARNP
, Unity Care NW – I’m a Family Nurse Practitioner and HIV Specialist at Unity Care NW.  I hold a Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Nursing/ Nurse Practitioner degree from Seattle Pacific University.  After spending 6 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at UW and volunteering in Uganda, I completed a Community Health Residency in Tacoma with a focus on caring for persons living with HIV. I joined Unity Care NW in 2014 as an opportunity to serve the community where I spent much of my childhood.  I earned my HIV credential through the American Academy of HIV Medicine in 2016.