Keeping blood clean
Screening program covers Hepatitis C

by Cheryl Leschasin
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 25/97) - In January and February of this year, four cases of hepatitis C, a blood-transmitted disease, were diagnosed in Yellowknife, according to GNWT health statistics.

One other case across the North has also been diagnosed.

Since 1992, there has been a sharp increase in hepatitis C diagnoses in the North, mainly because testing for the disease only became widely available in 1992.

Hepatitis is a general term used to describe an inflammation of the liver. When the inflammation lasts over six months, the disease is called chronic hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is characterized by symptoms such as mild-to-severe lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, upper right abdominal soreness, fever and painful joints. However, sufferers of hepatitis C may not exhibit any of these symptoms.

Health providers say there is little chance of contracting the disease through blood transfusions today.

"We have been testing for hepatitis C since 1990," said Marilyn Greffetreft, nursing manager at the Red Cross in Edmonton, where Stanton Regional Hospital sends blood samples for testing. Greffetreft added the disease was not officially identified as hepatitis "C" until after 1990.

It has been mandatory for blood testing facilities across Canada to test for hepatitis C since February 1990. As a result, it is now extremely unlikely a person will become infected while undergoing transfusion.

About 20 per cent of those diagnosed with hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, which may take up to 20 years to develop.

People with hepatitis C remain infectious throughout their lives. No vaccine is currently available for the disease.

Those at risk of contracting the disease today include:

  • Injection-drug users who share needles.
  • People undergoing skin penetration procedures such as tattooing or body piercing with unsterilized equipment.
  • Pregnant mothers passing the disease on to their newborn infants.
  • People who received blood transfusions prior to 1990.
  • Health-care workers with occupational exposure to blood.
  • Kidney dialysis patients and people with hemophilia.