THUNDER BAY - The rate of hepatitis C in Thunder Bay and the region is suspected to be as much as four times higher than the provincial average.
For a disease that up to 20 per cent of infected persons don’t know they have, testing and awareness is an important step to combating the spread.
That’s why Elevate NWO, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Liver Care Northwest teamed up on Tuesday to provide rapid testing for hepatitis C and information booths at the Victoriaville Centre.
Shelley Aretz, a public health nurse with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne illness in Canada and can lead to serious health problems like liver cancer or cirrhosis.
“The thing with hepatitis C is that people don’t have symptoms of it for a long time, so one can have hepatitis C and feel totally fine for many years, but it can do damage to their liver,” she said.
However, a cure for hepatitis C was discovered in 2013, and treatment options for those infected can be cured by an average of 12 weeks.
“Generally it’s a course of medication and depending on what the tests show, a few weeks to a few months (of treatment),” said Tonya Muchano, Elevate NWO's acting director of education.
Elevate NWO set up a rapid testing booth at Victoriaville. That same resource is usually available at their Cumberland Street location. Rapid testing for HIV is also available.
People getting tested can expect an outreach worker and public health nurse to ask questions about general drug use and sexual behaviour before gathering a blood sample from a finger poke.
Muchano said some harm reduction techniques are to avoid sharing needles and other drug usages.
“We know the major driver of new hepatitis C infections is injection drug use or the sharing of drug use equipment. That’s the case across the country and across the province,” Muchano said.
Hepatitis C is transferred through blood to blood contact, now most commonly as a result of common needles and particularly impacts street drug users, correctional facility inmates and the poverty-stricken and homeless communities.
Liver Care Northwest will be hosting a barbecue from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., where hepatitis C testing will be available.