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Canada: New Study Estimates Cases of Hepatitis B and C, but Experts Warn Figures May Be too Low

November 21, 2013

This article was reported by Globe and Mail (Toronto).

The Globe and Mail recently reported that Canadian experts believed data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) underestimated hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevalence in Canada. The study, based on data from 8,434 Canadians ages 14-79, indicated that 0.4 percent of those surveyed had hepatitis B and 0.5 percent had hepatitis C. Approximately 50 percent of hepatitis B-infected people and 70 percent of hepatitis C-infected people who participated in the survey were unaware they had the virus.

Warning that Canada faced an impending healthcare crisis with hepatitis C, Toronto General Hospital Hepatologist Dr. Morris Sherman suggested that the survey was counterproductive because it did not capture the scope of the problem accurately. In fact, Morris pointed out that the Statistics Canada Web site reported approximately 300,000 hepatitis C diagnoses, which conflicted with the CHMS estimate of 138,000 hepatitis C-infected Canadians.

The CHMS aimed to test a representative sample of Canadians for a range of conditions, but it excluded First Nations people living on reserves, prison inmates, members of the Armed Forces, and people in remote locations. Dr. Mel Krajden, a hepatitis C expert at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, stated that an accurate hepatitis estimate would require "strong representation" from populations typically unwilling to participate in the survey. These would include immigrants from high prevalence countries in South Asia, China, and Eastern Europe, injection drug users, First Nations people, the homeless, and prison inmates. However, Krajden praised the survey as "a step in the right direction."

According to Krajden, British Columbia had done more extensive testing and estimated that 1.4 percent of the province's total population had hepatitis C, with 3 percent of the province's baby boomers testing positive for hepatitis C. Health Canada recently approved a new drug, Galexos, for hepatitis C treatment.

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