Hepatitis C rates remain high in Cape Breton
Centre provides free testing
As Hepatitis C Day is marked today, Cape Breton continues to have the highest rates of the disease in the province and among the highest in the country.
There are about 5,000 people in the province living with the disease and a quarter of them are in Cape Breton, noted Christine Porter, executive director of the Ally Centre of Cape Breton.
“Our numbers are higher than that of Nova Scotia and higher than the average numbers in Canada,” she said.
The region has high rates of injection drug use, Porter said, noting that addiction is something that is often tied to socioeconomic conditions such as poverty. With the local needle exchange giving out more than 623,000 needles last year, the message about not sharing sharps appears to be resonating, but it’s also important to remind drug users not to share other paraphernalia as well.
“I’ve been here 16 years and the numbers increase year after year after year, and the funding, quite frankly, has not been increasing year after year after year,” Porter said.
She said that until last year, the exchange wasn’t in a position to distribute cookers to users.
“From what we’re hearing and all our research, that’s a major problem, that people are contracting from sharing spoons and filters and other equipment related to injection drug use,” Porter said.
Hepatitis affects the liver, which Porter noted is an organ extremely important to good health.
“It filters everything — everything you ingest, everything you breathe, everything you put in your body goes through your liver,” she said. “It’s an organ that works very hard, so when that liver is not working very well, you can get very sick.”
People with hepatitis C can remain asymptomatic for a long time and therefore pass on the disease to others with- out even knowing they are sick. That’s why testing is so important, Porter said, noting the centre provides free testing and encourages anyone interested in getting tested to contact them, or even walk in and get tested.
“It is known as the silent disease,” she said.
The good news is there have been advances in treatment and it is now considered curable, with few side-effects, Porter said.
There is a community effort underway, involving Public Health, to address the problem and raise awareness, she noted. There are now three local methadone programs in place to help people transition from injection drug use. Early intervention and stopping young people from getting addicted is also important, Porter added.
The Ally Centre will be out on Charlotte Street today with an information table as part of Downtown Days to alert members of the public to the services it offers.