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New Hepatitis C test available in Calgary

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Health Services estimates 24,000 Albertans have Hepatitis C and add most people don’t even know they have the virus. Michael King reports.

A new test for Hepatitis C was released in Calgary Tuesday and Alberta Health Services is recommending high-risk Albertans get screened.

In severe cases, Hepatitis C can cause liver damage and liver cancer, but many with the condition show no symptoms for decades.

AHS estimates that 24,000 Albertans live with chronic Hepatitis C, and hopes the new testing will lower that number.

READ MORE: Hepatitis C: Why Canadian doctors are recommending baby boomers get tested for the virus

Dr. Matthew Sadler – a hepatologist at the Foothills Medical Centre – said the virus can stay dormant for years.

“Many people won’t even notice they have Hepatitis C. We see many people who don’t have any symptoms until they have developed liver disease or liver cancer.”

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The Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver recommends anyone born between 1945 and 1975 is tested.

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Other at-risk groups include people with a history of injection-drug use, anyone who has been incarcerated, as well as people born overseas.

“People who come from many parts of Africa and parts of Asia where Hepatitis C rates are higher,” Sadler added.

The new test is available at five Calgary London Drugs locations and costs $24.

A simple finger-prick blood test reveals results in 20 minutes and if the test is positive, pharmacists refer patients for more blood work.

The additional tests then confirm the results and a specialist will follow up to start treatment.

READ MORE: B.C. expands drug coverage to anyone suffering from chronic hepatitis C

Sadler said Hepatitis C is curable through a simple regiment of medication.

“With as little as eight to 12 weeks of treatment with just pills… we’re able to cure about 95 per cent and many times more than that.”

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Carol Taylor knows how important testing and treatment is. For 34 years, she lived with the condition, not knowing she had Hepatitis C.

“I was very tired. I felt I was fighting the flu all the time,” said Taylor. “I went from [running a company] to forgetting the word ‘chair.’”

After receiving a positive Hepatitis result, Taylor started the treatment she said changed her life.

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“I can have conversations now. It’s helped a lot.”

Taylor urged anyone who thinks they might be at risk to get the screening done, either at a pharmacy or through their family doctor.

“You don’t even need to have any risk factors,” said Taylor. “The treatment is easy now.”