Healthy Living in the North

World Hepatitis Day: What you need to know

Graphic image of head with virus images in top right corner.

For World Hepatitis Day, Andrew Burton created a graphic image titled “Hepatitis on my Mind”. What can you do to prevent hepatitis?

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!

Andrew Burton

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.

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World Hepatitis Day 2014: Learn the facts about Hepatitis C

blood test, Heptatitis C

You take a simple blood test to test for HCV.

Monday, July 28th was World Hepatitis Day, so Northern Health would like to take this opportunity to share some important information about this chronic disease.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are many types of hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, with more likely to be confirmed. The most common types in British Columbia are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common of these three, so let’s focus on it.

From 1995-2012, there were 4,277 cases of HCV infections reported across Northern Health, with men accounting for 63 per cent of those cases. In 2012, there were 122 new cases of HCV in Northern Health — 67 per cent were men. The groups with the highest rates of infection are men aged 40-59 and women aged 25-29 and 40-59. Northern Health HCV prevalence in 2012 was 43.8 infections per 100,000 people, just above the provincial prevalence of 40.8 per 100,000.

How is HCV spread?
HCV is spread by direct contact with the blood of an infected person, through sharing injection drug equipment and other drug use paraphernalia, accidental exposure through needle sticks, and, prior to 1990, blood transfusions. Low risk activities for HCV exposure include skin-piercing procedures with non-sterile equipment, sexual intercourse, and prenatal transmission.

What are the symptoms of HCV?
Common symptoms include fever, tiredness, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), abdominal pain, dark urine, loss of appetite and nausea. Some people living with HCV feel fine and have no symptoms, but HCV can be a life-threatening disease so it’s important to know your status.

IS HCV treatable?
YES! For some people who get HCV, the virus disappears on its own, usually within the first six months of infection. However, for most people, the HCV virus does not go away. Treatment is available, with cure rates of up to 80 per cent for certain genotypes. What’s a genotype? It’s the genetic makeup of the virus and, for HCV, there are six distinct genotypes. Some of them have subgroups — so it’s best to ask your physician for more details.

How do I test for HCV?
You take a simple blood test for HCV, much like the HIV test. So if you’re offered an HIV test by your physician, don’t hesitate to request the HCV test, too.

For more information, please visit HepCBC at hepcbc.ca.

Did you do anything on Monday to raise awareness about Hepatitis?

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

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Attention all donors! The 2013 Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life needs your help!

Dr. Abu Hamour

Dr. Abu Hamour, this year’s Scotiabank AIDS Walk Champion.

I’ll be blunt: the organizers for Saturday’s annual Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life in Prince George are in dire straits. Although almost $19,000 were raised in 2012 for this signature fundraising event, donations this year are nowhere near that as tomorrow’s walk approaches.

Positive Living North (PLN), one of Northern Health’s community partners, is hosting the Prince George walk this Saturday, as well as walks in Smithers, Moricetown and Hazelton through next week. Vanessa West, PLN’s executive director in Prince George, says all of the funds raised through the AIDS Walk events stay in the host communities and go directly to the services and programs to support Canadians living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

So West has a message for you: PLN is asking northerners to support their annual AIDS walk events or the programs and services they offer to some of our most vulnerable citizens could be at risk.

Her plea comes as Northern Health is reporting an increase in the number of HIV tests being conducted throughout the region in 2012. Not only that, Dr. Abu Hamour, Infectious Diseases Specialist in northern BC — and the 2013 AIDS Walk Champion — reports that 88 per cent of the 233 HIV-positive patients in his care are on HIV medications.

What does this mean? Simply that while Northern Health and its community partners have made great progress in our collective efforts to bring awareness about HIV and AIDS to northern BC, and encourage northerners to get tested and treated early for HIV, there is still much work to be done to ensure that progress continues.

Don’t forget that at least 25 per cent of people with HIV don’t even know they have it. And although there’s no cure for HIV, it’s now considered a chronic disease that can be managed with antiretroviral medications. But for persons living with HIV/AIDS, life can be a challenge. And the support they receive from AIDS service organizations like PLN can be invaluable.

That’s where the rest of us come in. We need to remember that HIV does not discriminate and can affect anyone — all ages, all genders, all sexual preferences.

So if you can’t make it to this weekend’s Prince George AIDS Walk, you can opt to donate online or download a pledge form by visiting www.hiv101.ca. Or you can check out the times and locations of the AIDS Walk events listed below. Choose the one that’s closest to you and help fundraise for this most worthy cause.

Help us spread the word about HIV — not the disease:

  • Prince George, Saturday, September 14 • Masich Place Stadium • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Opening Ceremonies/Walk: 12p.m.
  • Moricetown, Wednesday, September 18 • Moricetown Multiplex • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Walk: 12p.m.
  • Smithers, Thursday, September 19 • Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Walk: 1p.m.
  • Hazelton, Friday, September 20 • Hagwilget Bridge Pullout • Registration: 11:30a.m.• Walk begins: 12p.m.

Also, view highlights from Monday’s news conference promoting the 2013 AIDS Walk for Life on CKPG TV.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George.

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