Hepatitis - a matter of life or death

    OTTAWA, May 11 /CNW Telbec/ - One in 12 people worldwide has hepatitis B
or C - including 600,000 Canadians. Many don't even know it. They may have no
obvious symptoms until serious liver damage has occurred. These are chronic,
lifelong viral infections that can affect anyone from any walk of life. On May
19, World Hepatitis Day, Canada will join with groups around the world to
raise public awareness about hepatitis.
    Hepatitis B and C are sometimes linked to illicit drug use, unsafe sex,
or alcoholism. Few people realize that virtually everyone is at risk.
Transmission could come from something as simple as being nicked by a beauty
parlour instrument that has previously cut someone who is infected. Sharing
toothbrushes or razors is another potential source of infection.
    Susan Kingston, 56, of Kemptville, Ontario, is suffering from cirrhosis
of the liver and is hoping for a liver transplant. She was pricked with a
needle while working as a laboratory technologist in the 1970s. She knew she
had been infected with hepatitis B but didn't know that she had also been
infected with the hepatitis C virus. Chronic hepatitis C causes inflammation
and damage over time that can lead to cirrhosis, and Kingston's hep C went
undetected for so long that the damage had been done by the time it was
    Because her liver isn't functioning properly, Kingston suffers from
ammonia build-up in her abdomen which affects the brain. She lives every day
with pain and has to have her midsection drained regularly or the pain becomes
unbearable. She is on a variety of medications while she waits for a
compatible liver transplant. If an available liver isn't found soon, Susan has
been told that she will be too sick to survive the transplant surgery.
    In many cases, there are no symptoms for hepatitis C as the disease
silently destroys the liver. Like any disease, the earlier it is found, the
earlier it can be treated and the greater the possibility of clearing the
virus. Often the only outcome without treatment is eventual progression to
cirrhosis, which can then lead to the need for a liver transplant or even
    Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in both Canada and
the United States, but two-thirds of those on the waiting list will die
waiting for a liver transplant because there are not enough donor organs to go
around. Hepatitis C is almost five times more prevalent than HIV in North
    The focus of this year's campaign is on raising public awareness.
Everyone should learn about the risk factors involved in both forms of
hepatitis and should talk to their health care provider about being tested if
they think they have been infected. To find out more, visit:


For further information:

For further information: Maureen Johnson, World Hepatitis Day 2009
national coordinator, (613) 692-4236, mojo.3@sympatico.ca

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