Hep­ati­tis C rates re­main high in Cape Bre­ton

Cen­tre pro­vides free test­ing

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - BY NANCY KING nk­ing@cb­post.com

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.

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