Hepatitis awareness being raised at Nova Institution for Women

Raissa Tetanish rtetanish@trurodaily.com
Published on July 25, 2014
HepNS staff, board members and volunteers at the 2013 World Hepatitis Day event as part of the Halifax Pride celebrations last year. On Monday, two staff members of the society will be at the Nova Institution for Women to talk about Hepatitis A, B and C and how it can be transmitted.
Submitted photo

TRURO - Local inmates will soon have information at their fingertips about the three most common types of hepatitis in Canada.

The Hepatitis Outreach Society of Nova Scotia, or HepNS, is stopping at the Nova Institution for Women on Monday, which coincides with World Hepatitis Day.

"What we've experienced is that the general public is not very aware of viral hepatitis," said Carla Densmore, the executive director of HepNS. "What we want to do is make Nova Scotians more aware about how hepatitis can spread and how they can treat it. One of our main messages is that everyone should get tested."

There are three man types of hepatitis - A, B and C - in Canada, with approximately 500 million people worldwide infected with the disease, or one in 12.

"World Hepatitis Alliance is the main driving force of World Hepatitis Day, and one of their main slogans is one in 12," said Densmore. "In Canada, it's estimated that 550,000 have viral hepatitis, with 300,000 having hepatitis C."

While there are five types of the disease in the world, the common ones in Canada are A through C.

A, said Densmore, is often called the travelling disease.

"It contaminates food and water and when you contract it, you get flu-like symptoms. Your body's natural immune system clears the disease on its own within about three months. There is no treatment for it."

When it comes to Hep B and C, they are more serious. Children will get vaccinated in school for Hep B, but there is no vaccine for Hep C.

"Hepatitis B is spread through human blood and bodily fluids transmitted through sex," she said. "Hepatitis C is only in blood."

There is no cure for Hep B, however, different types of antibiotics are available for Hep C, with the more common types giving a survival rate of 50 to 80 per cent.

New treatments are coming out at extremely high costs, but they also come with higher rates, such as 90 to 95 per cent.

If left untreated, Hep C can attack the liver, possibly leading to the need of a liver transplant.

"And while it's attacking the liver, some people may not necessarily have any symptoms. If people wait to get tested, it could be quite damaging and it could even be 20 to 30 years before someone starts showing symptoms," said Densmore.

There are many different ways the disease can be spread, including simple blood contact.

"It's not just direct contact with someone infected with it. For instance, it could be through sharing razors or sharing nail clippers. Even if there is blood on a toothbrush and you share a toothbrush. Blood can survive on a toothbrush for up to three days."

Another major way hepatitis is transmitted is through improperly or unsterilized tattooing and piercing equipment.

"But the biggest risk factor is sharing drug gear," said the society's executive director. "A lot of people picture needles and syringes, but it could be through anything - a filter or even straws through snorting."

Prison inmates are at a greater risk of hepatitis C exposure because they tend to engage in a variety of high-risk behaviours. Testing and treatment for Hep C is available to inmates in correctional facilities, and staff makes arrangements for treatment to continue upon release.

One thing people can do for liver health is reduce the amount of stress in their lives by eating healthy, exercising regularly and reducing the intake of alcohol and recreational drugs.

For more information on hepatitis or the society, visit www.hepns.ca or call 1-800-521-0572.


Twitter: @TDNRaissa