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Could a simple blood test combat Saskatchewan’s high rates of hepatitis C?

REGINA – A new study claims that early screening could help save the lives of people infected with what’s considered a silent killer.

Chronic hepatitis C can be treated, or even cured, if diagnosed early. But, detection is difficult because there are often few or no early symptoms.

The research in the Canadian Medical Association Journal states that screening all Canadians for the infection would be cost effective and prevent deaths.

Dr. William Wong, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and lead researcher explained Thursday that early diagnosis could alleviate costs on the health care system by treating the infection before it does serious damage to the liver.

“The majority of the not hepatitis C infected population will not benefit from this screening, so that is why the screening hasn’t been advocated in Canada in the past,” he said.

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Brian Wiens is the executive director of AIDS Program South Saskatchewan and welcomes the idea of a one-time screening for the entire population to help combat the disease in the province.

Saskatchewan has the highest number of hepatitis C cases of all the provinces, and of those diagnosed 70 per cent of people are also co-infected with HIV.

“For many of our clients who are injection drug users, a majority of them are HIV positive and also have hep-C,” he explained.  “Both of them have similar transmission routes so both can be transmitted through blood.”

Dr. Denis Werker, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said it’s not as easy as a simple blood test.

She explained that treatment options vary depending on the patient and may not be that cost effective after all.

“If you look at the article, they include costing for I think two tests, when there are as many as four or even five just for the screening, and the diagnosis, and monitoring of the treatment,” she said.  “So it’s not that straight forward.”

Werker added the province is considering implications of a universal screening for hepatitis C but is focused on awareness and education.

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