Number of hepatitis C cases rising in province

Gary Kean
Published on July 29, 2014

David Jones wants people to know their status.

He’s not talking about the “what’s on your mind?” question posed by Facebook profiles.

Jones is the harm reduction manager with the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador in Corner Brook and one of the organizers of an event held Tuesday to recognize World Hepatitis Day.

Considering that one in five people who have hepatitis C don’t even know they have the virus, Jones thinks it’s important people get tested.

Just one of the many forms of hepatitis, Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact and can lead to serious liver disease. Unlike other forms of hepatitis that can be prevented by vaccination, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C and a person can get the virus again even after managing to clear it from their body.

“Awareness is very important to get out there because this is a serious illness that people can have undetected for 20 or 30 years without any symptoms and they could be spreading the virus without knowing it,” explained Jones.

Common ways of spreading the hepatitis C virus may be sharing hypodermic needles or rough, unprotected sex.

Both hepatitis B and C are chronic viral conditions that can lead to life-threatening liver disease. About 550 million people around the world have one of these two forms of the virus.

In Canada, an estimated 550,000 people have viral hepatitis, with many unaware of their status. While the numbers are trending downward in the country as a whole, that is not the case in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There were no cases of the less serious form, hepatitis A, reported in the province in either 2013 or 2012, according to statistics provided by Western Health. But there were 104 cases of hepatitis C and 25 cases of hepatitis B reported in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2013.

That compares to 65 cases of hepatitis C and 14 cases of hepatitis B reported in the province in 2012.

In the western region, the 20 cases of hepatitis C reported in 2013 was up from the 11 cases reported the previous year. There was only one case of hepatitis B reported in western Newfoundland in each of 2013 and 2012.

The majority of hepatitis C cases reported in western Newfoundland were men, with 13 men and seven women diagnosed in 2013.

The age range was fairly constant with five people between the ages of 20-29 years, five between 30 and 39  years, four between 40-49 and six aged 50 or older.

This was the second year that World Hepatitis Day, which is actually July 28, was recognized in Corner Brook. For Tuesday’s event, the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador teamed up once again with the Corner Brook Women’s Centre to host a barbecue to help raise awareness.

The new twist this year was to expand the event into a community services fair by also inviting partners such as Western Health, the Transition House and the Western Regional Coalition to End Violence. Those groups used children’s games and other activities to attract more interest from the community.

“All of these partners have a role to play in helping individuals who may be vulnerable or are at-risk, so this was a good opportunity for them to display their services,” said Jones.