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Hepatitis may be closer than you think

SIMCOE, ON, JULY 20, 2012 – Hepatitis, a potentially deadly liver infection, affects one in 12 people worldwide; however, there are rarely obvious symptoms. As a result, health officials are reminding local residents that the hepatitis virus may be closer than you think.

While the international community is using July 28th, World Hepatitis Day, to raise awareness of all types of hepatitis, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is focusing on Hepatitis C.

“Many infected people do not know they have the virus because, for most, there will be no symptoms and for others, the symptoms may not show up for decades,” said Tamara Robb, a Public Health Nurse with the Health Unit’s Infectious Disease Team. “You may not know you have Hepatitis C until damage has already been done to your liver.”

It is estimated that 110,000 Ontarians are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, one third of which remain undiagnosed. The Health Unit managed over 35 Hepatitis C cases in 2011, most of which were newly diagnosed.

The Hepatitis C virus is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Unlike Hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C.

Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Receiving a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture treatment from an establishment with poor infection control practices can also lead to the virus spreading. Babies born to mothers with the virus have a relatively small chance of becoming infected with Hepatitis C.

“In the majority of cases we have seen, the individuals acquired Hepatitis C through injection drug use,” noted Robb. “Also, the highest rates were observed in males 20-35 years of age and over 50.”

Hepatitis C was occasionally spread through blood transfusions up until 1990, when widespread screening and testing of the blood supply began in Canada. However, because hepatitis C takes years to develop, people are being diagnosed with the disease decades after having had a transfusion.

As approximately 70-80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms, Robb noted that the only way a person can find out if they have the virus is by having their blood tested.

“We recommend that anyone that has ever shared needles or other drug-related equipment, or anyone who has had tattooing, piercing or acupuncture done with ‘shared’ or improperly cleaned needles, be tested for Hepatitis C.”

The list of people who are advised to be tested also includes:

  • People who had a blood transfusion before 1990.
  • People who share personal items (e.g., razor or toothbrush) with someone who has Hepatitis C.
  • People exposed to needle stick injuries (e.g., health care workers).
  • Hemodialysis patients.

For more information regarding Hepatitis C, visit the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s website at www.hnhu.org.

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Media contact:
Tamara Robb
Public Health Nurse – Infectious Disease Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3251 at either 519.426.6170 or 905.318.6623
[email protected]