July 28 is World Hepatitis Day.
Canada will join with groups around the world to raise public awareness of the life-threatening liver diseases hepatitis B and C. One in 12 people worldwide is infected with one or the other — 600,000 of them in Canada.
Many don’t even know it.
They may have no obvious symptoms until serious liver damage has occurred. These are chronic, lifelong viral infections that can affect anyone from any walk of life.
Hepatitis is incorrectly stigmatized as an IV drug-users’ disease, a sexually transmitted disease and/or an alcoholic’s disease, and few people realize that it takes only blood-to-blood transmission to pass it on — something as simple as sharing personal hygiene items such as razors and toothbrushes, or by using non-sterile equipment for tattoos, body piercing, haircutting, injection drugs or medical procedures.
Hepatitis A and B may be prevented by vaccines but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
The earlier hepatitis C is detected the sooner it can be treated and the greater the likelihood of recovery.
The most likely outcome without treatment is cirrhosis of the liver, which can be fatal in the absence of a liver transplant.
According to the B.C. Centre of Disease Control, the Northern Interior region has the second highest rates of Hepatitis C in B.C..
According to the centre’s website, symptoms are commonly absent and many people are unaware that they have hepatitis C until some time after they have been infected.
Symptoms of acute hepatitis C infection can include: fever, tiredness, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), abdominal pain, dark urine, loss of appetite and nausea (sick to your stomach).
The focus of the World Hepatitis Day campaign is to raise public awareness. We urge everyone to learn about the risk factors involved in hepatitis B and C and the need for testing if they think they might have been infected. To find out more, visit www.whdcanada.ca or www.bccdc.ca or talk to your local health care provider or health unit staff.
Sally Errey is the prevention worker with the Boys and Girls Club of Williams Lake and District.