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What you don’t know can hurt you


Viral hepatitis is a serious liver disease that may lead to liver failure, cancer, cirrhosis, disability and death. Despite its serious implications, I often think of it as a “quiet” illness; it sits and waits; it progresses slowly.

The symptoms are not immediately apparent and it can take years to take an obvious toll.
It is also a “quiet illness” because we, as Canadians, don’t talk about it much. We have the misconception that it only affects marginalized groups such as street youth, injection drug users and prison inmates.
The fact is that 600,000 Canadians are infected with hepatitis B or C — yet the majority of them don’t know that they have the illness. Baby-boomers are more likely to be infected than other age groups as a result of medical procedures, such as blood transfusion or dental work, performed before universal infection control measures became the norm.
People who are infected can unknowingly transmit the disease to others. Individuals can get viral hepatitis from medical equipment that has not been sanitized properly, sharing personal hygiene items such as razors, sharing needles, getting a tattoo or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior.
Viral hepatitis has loud and disastrous implications if left untreated. For the individual, it has devastating effects on the liver and overall health. For society, it adds an enormous burden to our already strained healthcare system. According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, by 2032, healthcare costs will increase by 60% due to complications of advanced hepatitis.
Last Tuesday was World Hepatitis Day and The Canadian Society for International Health (CSIH) is calling on baby boomers and other Canadians to get tested. We are not alone in making this request.
The World Health Organization has urged countries such as Canada to adopt widespread screening based on age, focusing on people born between 1945 and 1965.
Such testing would significantly increase early diagnoses, resulting in better treatment rates and quality of life, as well as diminishing long-term healthcare costs.
A simple blood test is all that it takes to diagnosis this complicated disease.
Seventy-five percent of people living with hepatitis C have the disease in its early stage which is the ideal time to diagnose and treat the disease.
New anti-viral treatment regimens have been proven successful if patients act early and can even cure the disease.
Canada is lagging behind the global efforts to eradicate hepatitis C with a lack of commitment to adopt new testing guidelines.
Even our neighbours to the south put into effect a one-time test for hepatitis C based on age.
It is anticipated that this will help diagnose an additional 800,000 people and save more than 120,000 lives in the US.
Hepatitis is a deadly disease. The good news is that if a Canadian requests the test, it is covered under the current health plan.
It is time for baby boomers and other Canadians to join the global initiative to eradicate hepatitis, advocate for their health and be tested. Together, let’s make some noise.

Ecaterina Damian,
program manager for the
Global Hepatitis C Network,
Canadian Society for
International Health

The symptoms are not immediately apparent and it can take years to take an obvious toll.
It is also a “quiet illness” because we, as Canadians, don’t talk about it much. We have the misconception that it only affects marginalized groups such as street youth, injection drug users and prison inmates.
The fact is that 600,000 Canadians are infected with hepatitis B or C — yet the majority of them don’t know that they have the illness. Baby-boomers are more likely to be infected than other age groups as a result of medical procedures, such as blood transfusion or dental work, performed before universal infection control measures became the norm.
People who are infected can unknowingly transmit the disease to others. Individuals can get viral hepatitis from medical equipment that has not been sanitized properly, sharing personal hygiene items such as razors, sharing needles, getting a tattoo or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior.
Viral hepatitis has loud and disastrous implications if left untreated. For the individual, it has devastating effects on the liver and overall health. For society, it adds an enormous burden to our already strained healthcare system. According to the Canadian Liver Foundation, by 2032, healthcare costs will increase by 60% due to complications of advanced hepatitis.
Last Tuesday was World Hepatitis Day and The Canadian Society for International Health (CSIH) is calling on baby boomers and other Canadians to get tested. We are not alone in making this request.
The World Health Organization has urged countries such as Canada to adopt widespread screening based on age, focusing on people born between 1945 and 1965.
Such testing would significantly increase early diagnoses, resulting in better treatment rates and quality of life, as well as diminishing long-term healthcare costs.
A simple blood test is all that it takes to diagnosis this complicated disease.
Seventy-five percent of people living with hepatitis C have the disease in its early stage which is the ideal time to diagnose and treat the disease.
New anti-viral treatment regimens have been proven successful if patients act early and can even cure the disease.
Canada is lagging behind the global efforts to eradicate hepatitis C with a lack of commitment to adopt new testing guidelines.
Even our neighbours to the south put into effect a one-time test for hepatitis C based on age.
It is anticipated that this will help diagnose an additional 800,000 people and save more than 120,000 lives in the US.
Hepatitis is a deadly disease. The good news is that if a Canadian requests the test, it is covered under the current health plan.
It is time for baby boomers and other Canadians to join the global initiative to eradicate hepatitis, advocate for their health and be tested. Together, let’s make some noise.

Ecaterina Damian,
program manager for the
Global Hepatitis C Network,
Canadian Society for
International Health

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