Quick Facts about Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C (HCV) is caused by a virus carried in blood. It can damage and scar the liver. The liver is an important organ in your body that helps the body fight infections, break down toxins, digest food and much more. You can’t live without your liver.
- The virus is passed through blood-to-blood contact.
- Getting tested is the only way to find out if you have hepatitis C.
- Hepatitis C is different from hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Vaccinations are available for hep A and B, but not for hepatitis C.
- Many people who have HCV do not have symptoms for many years and so could be unintentionally transmitting the virus. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that up to 40% of the Canadians living with hepatitis C don’t know they have it because they have never been tested.
How is Hepatitis C transmitted?
You can get Hepatitis C when blood containing the hepatitis C virus gets into your bloodstream through a cut, scrape, tear or puncture of your mucous membrane or skin. The highest-risk activities for getting Hep C are:
- Sharing or reusing drug equipment. This includes needles, syringes, filters, cookers, spoons, pipes for smoking crack or crystal meth and straws for snorting.
- Sharing or reusing tools for tattooing, piercing, electrolysis, or any other body modification or activity where traces of infected blood might be present.
- Re-using medical equipment that was meant to be used only once, such as needles for vaccines, or medical equipment that was not cleaned properly before re-use.
- Our blood supply is now screened for hepatitis C but if you had blood or blood products in Canada before 1992 you should get tested. You should also get tested if you have had medical or dental treatment or blood products outside of Canada
Other risk activities include:
- Sharing or borrowing personal care items that might have traces of blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes.
- Having anal sex without a condom, especially if another STI is present.
Further information about Hepatitis C
Worldwide 170 million people are living with hepatitis C. In Canada about 300,000 people have it and in British Columbia (BC), where the annual rate of newly identified HCV cases is about 50 % higher than the national average, there is an estimated 40, 000 people impacted.
There are highly effective new treatments available which have very few side effects, and excellent cure rates. Unfortunately because of the expense of treatment it is not currently as accessible to everyone as it could be. In some cases there are also medical criteria that needs to be met in order to get treatment but it is different from province to province. Talk to your healthcare provider or call AVI if you are interested in accessing treatment. For more detailed information about current treatments go to http://www.catie.ca/en/treatment/hepatitis-c
AVI offers several support services on Vancouver Island for those affected by hepatitis C. To see what programs are available in your area go to the “Our Services” section of our website.