Many with hepatitis unaware they’ve got it

World Hepatitis Day is being marked around the world on July 28 to raise public awareness about hepatitis B and C, two forms of life-threatening liver disease.

Today, approximately 500 million people — one in 12 worldwide — are infected with chronic viral hepatitis B or C. In Canada, an estimated 600,000 people have hepatitis, with many unaware of their status.

JEANETTE REINHARDT pins a hepatitis awareness ribbon onto the collar of Mayor Greg Phelps.

JEANETTE REINHARDT pins a hepatitis awareness ribbon onto the collar of Mayor Greg Phelps.

World Hepatitis Day is being marked around the world on July 28 to raise public awareness about hepatitis B and C, two forms of life-threatening liver disease.

Today, approximately 500 million people — one in 12 worldwide — are infected with chronic viral hepatitis B or C. In Canada, an estimated 600,000 people have hepatitis, with many unaware of their status.

Mayor and council have declared July 28 World Hepatitis Day in Courtenay. To mark the day, AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI), in conjunction with the Hepatitis C Peer Education Group, will host a health fair and barbeque at Simms Millennium Park on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. All are welcome.

There will be complimentary food and a variety of interactive displays. The goal of the event is to provide information about the importance of being tested for hepatitis, to provide information about traditional and complementary treatments, to provide hope for those living with hepatitis, and to remember individuals who have died due to hepatitis.

“It is important to mark World Hepatitis Day and the fact that approximately one in 12 people worldwide are infected with viral hepatitis — that’s over 500 million people — and the majority does not know,” said Jeanette Reinhardt, health promotion worker at AVI. “While rates in Canada are not as high as global figures, British Columbia boasts hepatitis C rates that are much higher than the national average.”

The theme for this first official WHO-sponsored World Hepatitis Day is “Hepatitis affects everyone, everywhere. Know it. Confront it,” highlighting the huge reach of this epidemic, the importance of getting informed and the need to use that information to tackle the stigma that has kept this epidemic so silent.

Hepatitis C is the most common chronic blood-borne virus in North America and the primary reason for liver transplants in Canada and the United States.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, rates of hepatitis C in British Columbia are higher than the Canadian average with 54.9 new cases per 100,000 people in 2009. On North Vancouver Island, this rate is even higher at 76.6 cases per 100,000.

The Canadian rates for 2009 were 36.7 per 100,000. The number of acute hepatitis B cases identified in B.C. has continued to decline, keeping below the national rate since 2002.

“Yet, hepatitis can be prevented and there are many services available to support people with hepatitis. Getting tested is the first step in confronting the disease,” said Reinhardt.

Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact and can be transmitted through the sharing of injection equipment or straws, piercing or tattoo equipment, and may be transmitted, although it is rare, through the sharing of anything that might have blood on it (i.e. razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes) or through unprotected sex with someone who has hepatitis C.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, unsterile needles, or from an infected woman to her newborn during birth. Testing is available through your family doctor or the Comox Valley Health Unit in Courtenay.

AIDS Vancouver Island provides community health services focused on the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C. This event is made possible by the support of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

For more information about hepatitis or this event, contact Jeanette Reinhardt of AIDS Vancouver Island at 250-338-7400.

— AIDS Vancouver Island

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