Awareness and education key to hepatitis prevention and treatment

Worldwide, there are 600 million people infected with hepatitis B or C

Worldwide, there are 600 million people infected with hepatitis B or C. This includes about 130,000 British Columbians — that’s one in every 33 people. World Hepatitis Day is about raising awareness to support the prevention and treatment of these viral illnesses.

Public funding for the hepatitis B vaccine began in 1992 and since then, B.C. has reduced new infections by more than 95%. In 2013, there were only 11 new infections reported. Most chronic hepatitis B infections in BC are in immigrants who acquired their infection in their country of origin. There is still more work to be done to diagnose and treat people living with hepatitis B to prevent liver damage.

Unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. However, it can be cured by antiviral drug treatment, which can prevent further transmission. Hepatitis C disproportionately affects four groups of British Columbians, recognizing that many individuals may identify with more than one group: people born between 1945 and 1975; new Canadians who have immigrated from countries where HCV is endemic; Aboriginal British Columbians and people with a history of injection drug use.

The largest of these groups are generally referred to as “baby boomers”, which represent two-thirds of British Columbians living with hepatitis C. While there is a lack of consensus about the exact age range of this cohort, those born between 1945 and 1975 should consider being tested. Most of these people were infected in the distant past and are not likely to transmit their infection. However, as they age, they have a 20 times higher risk of dying from liver disease and liver cancer. Immigrants from countries where hepatitis C is endemic, Aboriginal people and people who inject drugs should also get tested if they are unaware of their status.

Curing hepatitis C reduces the risk of dying from liver disease, improves quality of life, and prevents people from transmitting hepatitis to others. Even if people don’t get treated, knowing if you are infected is still very important because actions like reducing alcohol reduces the risk of developing liver disease.

New, more effective treatments for hepatitis C are now publicly funded. These new drugs have few side effects, are only taken for 8 to 24 weeks and can cure about 95% of those treated. Treatments like these can impact mortality and health outcomes, improving the lives of British Columbians.

Online resources such as www.hepatitiseducation.ca, developed in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the BC Centre for Disease Control, provide educational resources for those affected by hepatitis. This website provides information about hepatitis C including details on how hepatitis is spread, getting tested, living with hepatitis C, treatment, and life after treatment.

Resources are available in English, French and have been adapted for Aboriginal audiences.

World Hepatitis Day is about creating awareness, reducing the stigma of viral hepatitis and encouraging people to engage into care so they can be tested and treated when necessary. This collaborative effort will make the dream of hepatitis C elimination a reality.

The BC Centre for Disease Control, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides provincial and national leadership in public health through surveillance, detection, treatment, prevention and consultation services.

The Centre provides both direct diagnostic and treatment services for people with diseases of public health importance and analytical and policy support to all levels of government and health authorities.

 

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