The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B or C worldwide. However, less than 5% of these people have been tested or are aware of their diagnosis. On World Hepatitis Day, 28 July, people and organizations around the word raise awareness and join in the quest to find the “missing millions”. Read a blog about viral hepatitis below.
Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases, namely A, B, C, D, E- affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world. According to World Health Organization estimates, 325 million worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV). Viral hepatitis alone caused 1.34 million deaths in 2015, a number similar to deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined. Unlike the relative success for preventing deaths from HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the number of deaths related to viral hepatitis is on the rise.
In the total, HCV and HBV account for more than 90% of deaths in Europe and Americas. HBV is a vaccine preventable condition. However, there is currently no vaccine for HCV. The good news is, HCV is curable, the new treatment options are more than extremely effective.
HCV is a blood borne infection commonly transmitted through sharing injecting equipment, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and reuse of inadequate sterilization of medical equipment especially in healthcare settings. Less commonly, HCV can also be transmitted sexually, or from a HCV positive mother to the baby.
It is NOT spread through breast milk, food, water or by casual contact such as hugging, kissing, and sharing food or drinks with a person living with HCV.
Following an initial HCV transmission, approximately 20% of individuals clear HCV from their body without treatment, remaining 80% will develop chronic HCV infection. People living with chronic HCV can pass the virus to other. A large proportion of people with acute or chronic HCV infection do not exhibit any symptoms. They can however transmit the virus to other without their knowledge.
The only way to diagnose if someone has HCV is thorough two steps testing. The first step is to identify if someone ever had HCV infection by detecting of anti-HCV antibodies. If the test is positive for anti-HCV antibodies, a second HCV detection test will confirm if that person is currently have HCV or not. Without diagnosis, people living with HCV cannot take very important steps needed to prevent transmission and protect themselves from further liver damage. If left untreated, HCV can cause serious liver damage including liver scarring, cirrhosis, and cancer.
The most recent statistics from Public Health Agency of Canada indicates that nearly 1% of Canadians have been infected with HCV in their lifetime. Of those, 43% were people who inject drugs or formerly injected drug and 35% was found in foreign-born populations.
Annually an average 30 HCV cases are reported for HCV per 100,000, with significant provincial variation. In Alberta, the annual reported rate of HCV is higher than the national average (34.6 per 100,000). Currently, up to 246,000 Canadians are living with chronic HCV, while an estimated 44% them are unaware of their HCV status. Perhaps the greatest challenge to effective response to disease is public awareness and tackling stigma. Hepatitis C is more prevalent among people who inject drugs than in any other group.
HIV Community Link exists to support people living with, or at risk of HIV and hepatitis C. We educate communities, give non-judgmental support, tools and information, and offer harm reduction programs and services to populations in Calgary and Southeastern Alberta. In 2017 alone, our Medicine Hat site distributed nearly one quarter millions of safer injection supplies to clients who use drugs.
New treatment options cure almost everyone with Hepatitis C. The only way to know if you have HCV is through testing. We encourage following group of people to get tested for HCV,
- current or past used injection drugs (even once),
- born outside Canada,
- received healthcare services in places where infection prevention and control practices are not great,
- received blood transfusion before 1992,
- were incarcerated,
- were born to a mother who is HCV positive,
- shared personal care equipment with someone who is HCV positive,
- have HIV infection, particularly men who have sex with men.
If you are affected by HCV or would like to know more about HCV contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information (CATIE): http://www.catie.ca/
Action Hepatitis Canada: http://www.actionhepatitiscanada.ca/
Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS)- http://cupscalgary.com/health-programs/
Janak Bajgai MBBS, MPH, DTM&H, PhD-Student
Team Lead, Prevention and Education
HIV Community Link