Hepatitis C: People need to Deal With It

It’s a hidden epidemic, with most people affected being completely unaware that they have the disease at all. The Yorkton Film Festival and the Sunrise Health Region have partnered to help people understand Hepatitis C and get diagnosed, so they can get treatment as soon as possible. They screened the film Deal With It: Untold Stories of HIV in Canada on World Hepatitis Day, which tells stories of people who were diagnosed with HIV throughout the country.

Deanna Bartok, HIV Strategy Coordinator with the Sunrise Health Region, says there are an estimated 3-500,000 individuals living with Hepatitis C in the country, but many of them don’t realize they have it. The Saskatchewan rates make up a significant portion of that number, as this province has a rate that is 1.5 times higher than the national rate.

“It’s very fitting to bring awareness of Hepatitis C and viral Hepatitis in general, and encourage people to get tested.”

The virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact and unprotected sex, and can be picked up by anyone, sometimes through very simple means, Bartok explains. She says that it can be something as simple as sharing a razor or toothbrush with an infected person, as well as non-sterile injection drug use, or non-sterile tattoo, piercing or spa equipment.

“If this instruments are not being sterilized, there is a risk.”

The problem with the disease is that there are very few symptoms, and often they don’t arrive until the disease is at a very advanced stage.

“People can have it for a very, very long time and not even know they are infected at all. It’s not until 15-30 years later that they might start to get symptoms... The only way to know is to get tested, and that’s why we recommend everyone get tested.”

Bartok also says one of the goals is to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease. She emphasizes that it is something that can be contracted by anyone, no matter their background.

“Often people think it’s ‘those’ people, who inject substances, but really it isn’t about ‘those’ people, anyone can be at risk and anyone can be infected and not even realize it. There’s still some of that stigma and discrimination, but hopefully with more education and awareness that will change.”

If people do get tested, they have a greater chance of having treatment work and avoid some of the serious consequences of the disease, which include liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver.

“It’s certainly a reality check for the community, but with this film there is hope, because there is a treatment and it can be cured, and a lot of individuals don’t realize that.”

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