Thousands of Canadians have hepatitis C, and most don't even know it
Published Thursday, July 28, 2016 4:51PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 28, 2016 6:44PM EDT
Steve Pollard doesn’t want you to be like him.
Seven years ago Pollard went to the doctor, thinking he might have the flu. To his shock he was told he actually had severe scarring on his liver that was allowing damaging toxins to flood his bloodstream.
“It turned out to be hepatitis C,” he says.
Doctors said the virus had probably been in his body for two decades before the symptoms became noticeable, typical of hepatitis C. What’s worse, the damage was irreversible. Pollard endured five years of transplants and treatments.
It never occurred to the family man to get tested for a disease most often associated with intravenous drug use, unprotected sex with bleeding present, or pre-1992 blood transfusions.
He now knows that the “silent killer” is far more insidious than that. It can also be spread through things as innocuous as a barber’s razor, manicure clippers, or anything else that might accidently cause blood-to-blood contact.
It’s estimated 250,000 Canadians are currently living with hepatitis C. “And many of these people don't realize they have the disease," says Dr. Erin Kelly, a Hepatologist at the Ottawa Hospital. "And oftentimes, by the time they do figure that out, they already have irreparable liver damage."
One surprising risk factor is simply your date of birth. Baby boomers who grew up before blood screening and single-use needles are at greater risk. “We know that the age group between 1945 and 1975 are the highest risk for having hepatitis C and most of these people have never been tested,” says Kelly.
Are you at risk? Try the Canadian Liver Foundation’s hepatitis risk assessment to learn more.
The good news is that new treatments have proven far more effective with far fewer side effects. There is now a 95% chance you will be cured.
The trick is to catch the disease well in advance. All it takes is a simple blood test, and getting past the disease’s old stereotypes. “It’s not an embarrassment,” says Pollard. “And you never know, that just might be the life that you save.”
He should know. It was touch-and-go when the hepatitis C returned after his second liver transplant. But now, thanks to the new medications, he is hepatitis free.
July 28th is World Hepatitis Day.