July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. It’s an important day to remind us all to take care of our bodies!
Hepatitis is a group of diseases that affect the liver. The liver is the largest organ inside the body and one that most of us take for granted. Your liver cleans away toxins, fights infections and helps to digest food. It’s a strong and resilient organ. Most of the time it can heal itself but some things can seriously harm it.
Hepatitis, alcohol and some drugs can damage the liver, creating scarring called fibrosis that can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. The Public Health Agency of Canada predicts that by 2027, deaths related to cirrhosis and liver cancer will increase by 27 per cent.
There are seven identified types of viral hepatitis with types A, B and C being most common. You can be immunized against hepatitis A and B, but not C.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is the leading cause of liver transplants. About 80 per cent of people who have the acute form of HCV show no noticeable symptoms. HCV can live and grow in the body for years without being noticed until serious harm has been done. HCV can also be a co-infection with other illnesses, such as HIV or hepatitis A or B, that make the damage worse.
HCV is spread by blood-to-blood contact such as sharing drug-using equipment; reusing tools in tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture and electrolysis; sharing items that have blood on them like toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers; and unprotected sex where blood could be present.
The only way to really know if you have HCV is to get tested. A simple blood test can tell you if you have come in contact with the virus.
There is some good news about HCV: it is curable. Treatment can eliminate the infection from the body. Knowing your HCV status is the first step. Take that step. Get tested.
Ask yourself what you do now that could put you at risk. Where you see risk factors, make some changes. We all have room to lead healthier lives!
About Andrew Burton
Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.