Pacific Hepatitis C Network Newsletter – Hepatitis C stigma impacts health outcomes for Canadians

Dec 23, 2013 03:06 pm | Deb Schmitz


Recent comments by Liberal MP Gerry Byrne regarding Pamela Anderson show the depth of stigma and misinformation about hepatitis C that still exists in Canada today.

President of Pacific Hepatitis C Network and hepatitis C survivor Daryl Luster states, “Stigma related to hepatitis C, and the discrimination following from that stigma, has a direct impact on health outcomes for people living in BC”.  Many PHCN members and others have experienced this stigma and discrimination first hand – so the BC network’s prime directive remains as important as ever – educate to reduce stigma and improve health outcomes for those living with, and at risk for, hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is blood borne infection contracted through direct blood-to-blood contact. Hepatitis C is a virus that attacks the liver, which over time and if untreated, can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and/or liver failure and to symptoms such as persistent fatigue and ‘brain fog’.  There is no vaccination, and while current treatments can successfully cure some people of hep C, the treatments are long, often have terrible side effects, and don’t work for everyone.

As of 2011, close to 63,000 people in BC have hep C.  Because many people are never tested for hepatitis C, experts believe this number could be as much as 20% higher.

There are two main reasons people are not tested for hepatitis C. The first is because often people do not experience any related symptoms for years, and thus, have no reason to suspect they may have hepatitis C.

The second most common reason people are not tested for hepatitis C is that there is still a perception of only people currently involved with “high risk” activities, such as intravenous drug use, need to be tested.  The stigma associated with drug use compounds the stigmatization of hepatitis C as a communicable disease that we still see today.  Stigma and discrimination act as barriers to all forms of health care needed to address hepatitis C – from prevention to care, monitoring, treatment and support.

While intravenous drug use still is the highest risk for contracting hepatitis C other routes of transmission exist.  Many people with hepatitis C contracted the virus prior to 1992, when Canada did not screen its blood products for the hepatitis C.  This led to many Canadians being exposed via blood transfusions, organ transplants or other blood products.

Researchers in BC believe these factors, among others, have led to the current figures that show ‘baby boomers’ – (those born between 1945-1975) – are twice as likely to have hepatitis C compared to other age groups.   As this population ages, the impact of hepatitis C will also continue to rise – unnecessarily.  The answer is to increase testing and treatment options.

While effective, stigma and discrimination will sideline the new hep C treatments that are nearly available to those living with hepatitis C.  Effectively treating British Columbians, and all Canadians, means eliminating the stigma that keeps patients from accessing care. We all play a part.  As PHCN Board President Daryl Luster points out, “Hepatitis C can affect anyone.  Inform yourself and others. Support your loved ones.  Get tested.”

For more information contact:

Deb Schmitz, E.D. Pacific Hepatitis C Network
[email protected]