An estimated 250,000 Canadians have hepatitis C and the Canadian Liver Foundation is launching a new campaign to raise awareness about the disease.
According to the foundation, 44 per cent of Canadians with hepatitis C don’t even know they are infected.
It’s known as a silent liver disease because hepatitis C, which is caused by a virus, doesn’t produce any symptoms.
“When people first get it they don’t have any symptoms,” Naglaa Shoukry, professor at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre and director of the Canadian Network on Hepatitis C, said.
“It’s only years after when they start to develop liver disease that they start not feeling well and go see the doctor, that’s when they find out that they are sick.”
Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to more serious issues, according to Shoukry.
“They may develop liver fibrosis, end-stage liver disease, they may need a transplant and some may even develop liver cancer.”
The new intitiative — #Thisisyourwarning — targets people born between 1945 and 1975, who are the most at risk of having hepatitis C.
“Basically it’s to encourage people to know their risk for hepatitis C and to get tested,” Shoukry said. “You can actually go to the website and you can have a confidential risk assessment questionnaire.”
The campaign also aims to dispel some common misconceptions, mostly to do with how the virus is contracted.
The virus is often associated with intravenous drug use, but Shoukry warned it can be contracted by other methods.
“Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted through contaminated blood,” she explained.
“So anybody who was exposed to blood, not necessarily through use of injection drugs, but it could be through use of manicure or pedicure instruments that were not sterilized, could have been exposed to hepatitis C.”
Shoukry said testing for the virus is a simple procedure.
“It’s a simple blood draw,” she said, adding that the test is covered by most provincial drug insurance plans.”
Shoukry also wanted to drive home the message that a positive test result, “is not the end of the road.”
“It is curable,” she said. “We have treatments that are almost more than 95 per cent effective in most cases.”
She also noted that treatment benefits not only the patient but society at large.
“You will protect your liver and you will protect everyone around you who could be exposed indirectly to hepatitis C.”
To learn more about hepatitis C visit the Canadian Liver Foundation website.