World Hepatitis Day on July 28 provides an opportunity to remember that hepatitis C can be treated and cured. Seeking early treatment for hepatitis C can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer and other health issues.
The number of new hepatitis C infections in B.C. has been declining over the last 10 years. However, the number of new hepatocellular carcinoma diagnoses has been steadily increasing among people with hepatitis C infection.
“Hepatitis C is one of the main causes of hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer,” said Sofia Bartlett, Senior Scientist, Clinical Prevention Services, BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).
More than 20,000 people in British Columbia with chronic hepatitis C infection are yet to access treatment.
“Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) treatments for hepatitis C became available in 2014 with limited eligibility, which was expanded in 2018 to include all people in B.C. with hepatitis C infection,” said Bartlett.
“Those who were diagnosed with hepatitis C a long time ago may not be aware of these newer treatment options.”
These new treatments are highly effective, curing more than 95 percent of people who are treated. Treatments last 8 to 12 weeks and involve only oral treatments, such as pills or tablets. They have fewer and less severe side effects than old therapies.
Daryl Luster, hepatitis C educator, stressed the importance of getting tested and seeking treatment.
“I was tested almost by accident in 2009 as part of screening for something unrelated. I suspect I had lived with it for years, undetected and untested,” said Luster.
Living with the virus for several years before diagnosis has caused Luster several health issues.
“It has challenged my quality of life. My message to others is to get tested and to follow it up with treatment.”
Many people with hepatitis C virus (HCV) may not present any symptoms and do not know that they have the virus. The only way to know for sure is to get tested.
According to BC Guidelines for Viral Hepatitis Testing, one-time testing is recommended for:
- People born between 1945 – 1965
- People born outside of Canada in countries where HCV is considered an endemic
- People at risk for HCV infection or reinfection are recommended to be tested annually
Talk to your health care provider about testing and treatment for hepatitis C. Alternatively, people who do not have a family physician can also access testing using the BC Hepatitis Clinic map. Call the clinic directly to refer yourself for testing.
- There were 1,920 new hepatitis C diagnoses in B.C. in 2019
- There were 1,114 total new hepatitis B diagnoses in B.C. in 2019
- Liver disease was the 9th leading underlying cause of death in B.C. between March 2020 and February 2022, with the median age of death at 62 years