In an announcement made on Tuesday, the British Columbia government said that individuals diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C would be provided full access to treatment funded under PharmaCare, even during early stages of the disease. In addition, they also announced that a new drug, Vosevi, would also be made available to British Columbians with Hepatitis C. Currently, an estimated 73,000 British Columbians are living with the virus; and, according to the World Health Organization, chronic Hepatitis C affects up to as many as 150 million people worldwide.
What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that affects the liver, and is usually spread by coming into contact with the blood of an infected individual. Examples of blood contact can include blood transfusions (before the year 1990), sharing injecting equipment such as needles or syringes (or accidentally poking yourself with one.) Other situations where blood contact can occur, albeit a much lower risk, may include sharing razors, nail files or tooth brushes, body piercing, tattoos, and sexual intercourse; it is also possible for a mother that is breastfeeding to pass the virus onto her newborn infant. Hepatitis C is NOT spread through contact such as hugging or kissing, couching, sneezing, sharing cutlery, swimming, or being bitten or stung by insects, nor is it transferred through other bodily fluids such as saliva or vomit.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is categorized into two different stages: Acute or chronic. During acute hepatitis C, symptoms may be absent and many individuals are actually unaware that they have the virus – in fact, as many as 75 percent of individuals with Hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms at all; though in some cases you may experience fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, develop yellowing of the skin or eyes (also known as jaundice), as well as have dark urine. In 15 to 25 percent of acute Hepatitis C cases, the infection will resolve on its own without any treatment, though it’s recommended that you get plenty of rest, have a healthy diet, and drink an adequate amount of fluids. With Hepatitis C, the disease is recurring, and symptoms are similar to that of an acute diagnosis, but can be much more severe, and can also result in complications such as cirrhosis of the liver, which can be minor or life threatening.
How is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?
In order to accurately diagnose Hepatitis C, Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, will need to refer patients for blood tests – first being one known as a Hepatitis C antibody test. This test will be able to determine if you have been exposed to the virus. If this test comes back positive, a second blood test will be administered called the PCR test – also known as the Polymerase Chain Reaction test – which will determine if an active Hepatitis C infection is currently present in the blood. If you do test positive for Hepatitis C, it is suggested that you have regular blood tests to check the function of your liver.
How is Hepatitis C Treated?
The standard treatment often includes several different types of drugs, and there are many types available, such as Health Canada-approved anti-viral drugs. Based on test results and symptoms present, your physician will determine the best course of treatment for you.