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.

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