May 21, 2009
Not enough family doctors are testing for hepatitis C, and many people with the infection are unaware they have it, according to Dr. Kelly Kaita, director of the viral hepatitis investigative unit at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Center. Tattoo enthusiasts, blood transfusion recipients, and people who have experimented with drugs should be tested for the blood-borne virus, he said.
Kaita is one of three liver specialists in Manitoba. His clinic sees about 8,000 hepatitis patients -- almost 10 times more than a decade ago. The latest data show that between January and October 2008, the province recorded 291 new hepatitis C infections.
On Tuesday, World Hepatitis Day, health care workers and volunteers hit the streets of Winnipeg to raise awareness of the virus, which affects one person in 12 globally.
Kirk Leavesley, a hepatitis C support group counselor, said many people are afraid to bring up the infection to their doctor because of the stigma associated with it. "The biggest problem we still have is stigma. A lot of people who have hepatitis C don't want to tell people because there's a real fear of being shunned," he said.
Treatment can often cure the infection and prevent further complications. However, roughly 20 percent of hepatitis C-infected patients will develop end-stage liver disease or liver cancer, with many requiring a liver transplant, Kaita said.