Those in high risk groups have little knowledge of the deadly virus
TORONTO, Nov. 17, 2014 /CNW/ - An estimated 250,000 Canadians live with hepatitis C, a deadly virus that attacks the liver and can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or even death. A new survey conducted by Ipsos Reid on behalf of the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) found that among adults born between 1945 and 1975, only 29 per cent believe their own age group has the most people living with hepatitis C. Yet, adults born between 1945 and 1975 have the highest risk of having undiagnosed hepatitis C. The survey also found more than 75 per cent of the respondents have not been tested for the deadly disease or don't know if they have.
"One in five people with the virus don't know they are living with hepatitis C because symptoms often don't appear until it's too late and the liver is damaged," said Dr. Morris Sherman, Chairperson for the Canadian Liver Foundation and hepatologist at Toronto General Hospital. "We want to encourage all those who are at risk to get tested and urge those who have been tested to speak to their doctor about treatment."
Adults born between 1945 and 1975 (including those born in Canada or abroad) are a high risk group because they may have undergone blood transfusions before testing of blood was introduced, experienced medical procedures or immunization before modern infection control measures became the norm (especially outside of Canada) or experimented with intravenous drug use (even once). The disease is spread through blood to blood contact with an infected person or through unsterilized equipment, such as tattoo or piercing needles, that have been contaminated with infected blood.
52 year old Sharon Rider contracted hepatitis C at age 16 when she received a transfusion during back surgery to correct her scoliosis. She was finally diagnosed 23 years later when she underwent a battery of blood tests prior to a second back surgery.
"When I found out I was terrified that I might have passed it on to my husband or children," said Sharon. "No one had ever suggested that I should get tested for hepatitis C and I didn't have any symptoms that would have suggested that this virus was attacking and damaging my liver."
The national survey of more than 1,000 Canadians found that although the 1945 to 1975 age bracket do not realize they are at such a high risk, the majority of respondents (86 per cent) have heard of hepatitis C and 77 per cent know that the liver is the most affected organ. In addition, 60 per cent understand that you can have the virus and not know it. However, only 11 per cent believe the disease has the highest rates of premature death among a list of diseases. Left untreated, hepatitis C progresses to cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure and can result in death.
In 2012, the Canadian Liver Foundation recommended that adults born between 1945 and 1975 undergo a one-time test for hepatitis C. This recommendation was supported by a Canadian Medical Association Journal article in which authors suggested that wide-spread testing of this age group could identify as many as 77% of those who are infected.
Among the survey respondents, the most motivating reason to get tested is a recommendation from a doctor (70 per cent), followed by realizing you have a risk factor (44 per cent).
"Family physicians and other front line health care professionals have a vital role to play in educating their patients about risk factors and encouraging hepatitis C testing," said Dr. Sherman. "Without diagnosis and timely treatment, individuals who are living unknowingly with hepatitis C will continue to progress toward more severe liver damage and risk suffering the most severe consequences of this disease."
Numbers by region:
- Almost 40 per cent of survey respondents in Atlantic and Quebec do not know that getting a tattoo can put them at risk of contracting hepatitis C.
- Only 61 per cent of those in Quebec believe that hepatitis C can lead to the most life-threatening consequences including cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver transplant and death.
- Only 10 per cent of respondents in Ontario and Quebec believe that hepatitis C causes the highest rate of premature death from a list of other infectious diseases.
- 72 per cent of Ontario respondents and 76 per cent of BC respondents have not been tested or do not know if they have been tested for hepatitis C.
CLF will participate in a legislative education day on November 20th at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The education day will aim to inform politicians on the toll hepatitis C is taking on Canadians.
To determine your risk of contracting hepatitis C and to learn more about hepatitis C testing, please visit liver.ca/hepcinfo.
About the Canadian Liver Foundation
Founded in 1969 by a group of doctors and business leaders concerned about the increasing incidence of liver disease, the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) was the first organization in the world devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease. Through its chapters across the country, the CLF strives to promote liver health, improve public awareness and understanding of liver disease, raise funds for research and provide support to individuals affected by liver disease.
SOURCE: Canadian Liver Foundation
For further information: Ginger Shewell, Media Profile, [email protected], 416-342-1802