A new set of guidelines was released which says that Canadians that were born between 1945 and 1975 should b tested for the liver-destroying virus Hepatitis C.
It is believed that over 250,000 Canadians are infected with the virus, but that 40-70% of those infected are unaware they carry the blood-borne virus. Hepatitis C can remain in the blood for years before symptoms appear and chronic infection can lead to serious liver conditions like cirrhosis of the live and liver cancer.
Dr. Jordan Feld, a liver specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network, co-wrote the guidelines and believes people should be tested based on age not only on risk factors. Statistics say that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Canadians infected with Hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1975.
These new guidelines are different from those issued by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care last year, which said that testing should be based on high risk factors regardless of age.
High risk factors for Hepatitis C include engagement in IV drug use with shared needles, tattoos or body piercings with unsterile tools, unprotected sex with multiple partners, or having received a blood transfusion, blood product, or organ transplant before 1992.
One of the main arguments made by the task force against age-based screening was the lack of effective treatment which was accessible, but Hepatitis treatment has since improved greatly with the advent of antiviral medications.
Feld said, ‘The old treatments were difficult to take, had lots of side-effects and a low cure rate. Our current treatments are as simple as a pill or a few pills a day for as little as eight to 12 weeks, with cure rates above 95 per cent.’
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Drugs are rather expensive but are cost-effective as healthcare resources to treat the complications that come with chronic Hepatitis C. Almost all private and most provincial and territorial drug plans now cover the cost of the drugs.
In order to get screened for Hepatitis C, an inexpensive blood test is required. Since most people exposed to the virus are able to clear it from their bodies, over 98% of tests will be negative. However, those who are found to be infected can access life-saving treatment with timely diagnosis. The World Health Organization hopes to eliminate Hepatitis C globally by 2030 and has Canada’s endorsement.