Know Your Status — Get Tested.
That’s the message for those born between 1945 and 1975. Three out of four Canadians who have hepatitis C (HCV) fall within this age bracket.
Del Grimstad is one of those, but has successfully treated the virus that mostly attacks the liver, but can also cross the brain barrier.
“Which we’ve suspected for many years, but they finally got proof of it,” said Grimstad, a harm reduction worker at AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) who co-facilitates a local Hep C peer group. He also co-chairs HepCBC in Victoria, and is part of a steering committee for Action Hepatitis Canada.
Many people infected with hep C never feel sick and recover. Others get a brief illness with fatigue and loss of appetite, and their skin and eyes turn yellow. If one’s body is not able to fend off the virus, a person may develop chronic hepatitis, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure or cancer. Like chronic hep B, chronic hep C is a ‘silent’ disease because symptoms often don’t appear until one’s liver is severely damaged.
“The virus itself is a very virulent virus,” said Grimstad, noting HCV is contracted blood to blood. “We think at least 25 per cent of people that have it don’t know it. That’s concerning because then they can unknowingly pass it on…One of the problems with the virus is that it mutates very readily.”
Percentage wise, he said 25 to 30 per cent of people “spontaneously clear” their body of the virus. For the remainder, about 30 per cent develop cirrhosis.
“About 20 per cent of those eventually go on to cancer — if left untreated,” Grimstad said.
As opposed to costly liver replacements, he treatments are now a pill a day with no side effects.
Friday, July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. FMI: hepcbc.ca or whdcanada.org
AVI is located at 355 Sixth St. in Courtenay.