VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Only 30 years after a disease that attacks your liver was identified, there’s hope hepatitis C can be virtually eradicated in little more than a decade.
Researchers say diagnosing and treating the virus is easier than it’s been since it was identified in 1989.
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, and the World Health Organization has issued a call for the more than 70 million people who don’t know they’re infected to get tested.
Dr. Naveed Janjua, a senior scientist with the Hepatitis Program at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, says testing in this province has doubled since 2011.
“That has helped us to diagnose most of the individuals who are living with hepatitis C in B.C. We are doing much better than a lot of other countries.”
He adds B.C.’s better off than other provinces because all treatments here are covered by PharmaCare and most of the 3,000 people diagnosed last year have already been cured.
“Our proportion of undiagnosed has declined to about 20 per cent, so elimination doesn’t mean that it completely wipes out the virus or disease itself, but it means reducing the number of people living with hepatitis C to a level, so that it’s not a major public health issue.”
Janjua tells NEWS 1130 if left untreated, hepatitis C can cause cancer, cirrhosis and other complications which can be deadly or require a transplant.
“It’s a silent disease. People won’t have any signs or symptoms until their liver has a lot of damage.”
He says nearly three out of four people with the disease have no symptoms, so anyone born between 1945 and 1964 is at risk, as well as people from countries where the virus is prevalent.
“Egypt, Pakistan, India and some parts of China and Africa or people who have a history of risky activity, such as substance use, tattooing or may have received a blood transfusion or blood products before 1990.”
Janjua adds over the last 30 years, more than 20,000 people have been treated and cured in B.C.
The BCCDC recommends testing if you:
- Are part of the baby boomer generation (born between 1945 and 1965)
- Use or have used injection drugs
- Spent time in the provincial or federal prison system
- Immigrated from or spent significant time in a country where hepatitis C is prevalent
- Are a man who has sex with men
- Received a blood transfusion, blood products or organ transplant before 1992
- Received health care or got a tattoo where equipment wasn’t sterilized or there was a lack of infection prevention and control practices
- Have a history of sexual contact or sharing of personal care items with someone who is infected
- Were born to a mother who has or had hepatitis C.
- Until recently, hepatitis C treatment was only available to individuals who were in the late stages of infection because the available treatments cured fewer than 50 per cent of infections and required 48 weeks of grueling therapy with significant side effects.
- Today’s treatments, called direct-acting antiviral drugs, are effective for 95 per cent of infections, require a shorter eight to 12 weeks of therapy and come with very few side effects.
- Increased testing efforts and improved treatment uptake have started to show their effect by reducing liver-related mortality in B.C. as well as the risk of developing cirrhosis, and liver cancer as shown in recent research by the BCCDC.
- Treatment also reduces the risk of dying from strokes, heart attacks and kidney failure.