Talk, test, treat
Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact
World Hepatitis Day is Tuesday and being informed about hepatitis is the best defence.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that may cause damage and eventually lead to cirrhosis or cancer of the liver if left untreated.
The 2013 statistics tell us that the population within the former Cape Breton District Health Authority had more than double the provincial rate of hepatitis C. Thirty per cent of these cases were among individuals less than 25 years of age. These are troubling statistics.
It is important to know that although there are vaccines available for hepatitis A and B there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C; however it is a disease that is 100 per cent preventable. This is why it is so important for us to know the risks, know how to prevent infection and know how to get tested and treated.
Hepatitis C has the potential to affect anyone. It is spread through blood to blood contact, which means that infected blood needs to get into your bloodstream for you to become infected with the virus.
Some behaviours and situations put people at higher risk of getting the virus.
In Cape Breton, we know that a significant percentage of those infected have become infected through the sharing of drug using equipment. It would be a good plan for a person who has ever shared drug-using equipment (like needles, syringes, cotton, cookers, rinse water, straws and crack pipes) to get tested.
As well, if you have gotten a tattoo or piercing where standard sterilizing procedures weren’t followed or if you have received a blood transfusion in Canada before 1992 — get tested.
The Canadian Liver Foundation has recommended that everyone born between 1945 and 1975 get tested for hepatitis C because the rates of infection are estimated to be higher in this group.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated 44 per cent of Canadians with hepatitis C don’t know they have it. Some people may have hepatitis C for 20 or more years before having any symptoms thereby potentially infecting others with the virus without knowing it. Remember, even if you have been previously diagnosed and treated for hepatitis C, you can become re-infected with the virus, so if your risk behaviour continues — get tested again.
Testing can be done through your family physician, health centre, walk-in clinic, at emergency or through free private testing at the ALLY Centre in Sydney (phone 902-567-1123 to make an appointment).
The earlier the disease is detected, the better the treatment outcomes. In the past year, several new and highly effective hepatitis C treatments have been approved for use in Canada and we can now talk about curing hepatitis C.