Hepatitis C is a serious disease of the liver that may cause liver failure or liver cancer. It is estimated that 300,000 Canadians are infected. About 5,000 new cases of infection occur each year. In Atlantic Canada, Hepatitis C is 10 times more common than HIV/AIDS with about 5,000 Nova Scotians living with the disease.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious condition that damages the liver and can lead to potentially fatal liver diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
Like the Hepatitis B virus, Hepatitis C passes through infected blood. The most common cause of transmission is the sharing of needles and other equipment used for IV drugs. Other causes of transmission include:
- sharing a razor, toothbrush or nail clipper with an infected person
- accidental exposure to infected blood among health care or public safety workers
- exposure to unclean tattooing or body-piercing instruments
- high risk sexual activity or exposure to multiple sex partners
In rare cases, Hepatitis C can be spread from an infected mother to her child at birth. It cannot be spread by breast-feeding.
If you have Hepatitis C, the goal of treatment is to try and get rid of the virus in your body. If the virus is cleared, that can limit the damage done to your liver.
Your doctor will talk to you about starting treatment with antiviral medicines that may help get rid of the virus. The standard medicines for Hepatitis C treatment are called peginterferons and interferons. These two medicines are usually used together.
There is no vaccine to prevent Hepatitis C, so the only way is to avoid exposure to infected blood. Infection can be avoided by:
- Not sharing needles IV drugs
- Always using recommended safety precautions if you are exposed to blood at your job
- Not engaging in risky sexual practices with people who may have Hepatitis C
- Not sharing personal hygiene items with infected household members or others