Guest column by Elevate NWO
It is estimated that approximately 1 in every 50 people are living with hepatitis C in Thunder Bay, although many do not know it. Hepatitis C is a serious liver disease. Left untreated, it could lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or even require a person to get a liver transplant.
This week HepNet, a coalition of local agencies, is holding free public events around the city to provide the public with information on hepatitis C prevention, testing, and treatment. The goal is to mark World Hepatitis Day, a global day of action, education, and commemoration to raise awareness of viral hepatitis.
The events are being held this week at Victoriaville Mall, Elevate NWO, OATC clinics, and Intercity Mall in order to raise awareness and help normalize the disease. “A hep C diagnosis can still carry a lot fear and stigma,” says Cynthia Olsen, Coordinator of the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy. “By holding public events in high traffic areas we hope to demystify hep C.”
Eric Shih, Director of Education and Community Development at Elevate NWO adds, “in many ways hepatitis C is a chronic disease like any other – manageable, treatable, and even curable. It is so important to change public perception so that individuals feel comfortable accessing hep C testing, care, treatment, and support.”
The events began yesterday with a health fair at Victoriaville mall and continue throughout the week. Today, Wednesday, and Thursday all OATC locations across the city are offering drop-in Hep C testing with a chance to enter a draw for a $50 Visa gift card. Drop-in times vary by location but start as early as 10:00am. Health cards are required for those interested in getting tested.
Elevate NWO is also offering Hep C testing all week long, and will be hosting a free BBQ and testing blitz with live music on Wednesday from 12:00pm – 2:00pm. The agency will also be screening the locally created short film, Blood2Blood. Health cards are not required for testing at Elevate NWO, located at 106 Cumberland Street North.
On Friday, HepNet will be holding a Hepatitis C health fair at Intercity Shopping Centre from 11:00am – 2:00pm. Refreshments, brochures and other information will be available.
Hep C transmission can occur when infected blood comes into contact with another person’s bloodstream. As people who are infected can unknowingly transmit the disease to others, Tannice Fletcher-Stackhouse, a nurse practitioner with LiverCare Northwest advises those who think they may have been exposed to get tested, as many people do not show symptoms after becoming infected. The risk of a hepatitis C infection increases with certain activities that include having a tattoo or piercing with equipment that was shared or not sterilized properly; sharing needles or equipment for injecting drugs, including cookers, ties, water, and filters; sharing supplies for inhaling (smoking) or snorting drugs.
“There is a simple blood test that is available from any health care provider” says Fletcher-Stackhouse. Testing is even available for those without an Ontario Health Card from both Elevate NWO and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, there is treatment. Hepatitis C can be cured, and with new guidelines introduced earlier this year, treatment has become more accessible. Locally treatment is available from many health care providers, with several HepNet partners specializing in hepatitis C treatment, including Elevate NWO, LiverCare Northwest, and the OATC’s Conquer Clinics.
HepNet is a network of health service agencies and businesses that conduct work in various aspects of Hepatitis C education, treatment, care, and support in Thunder Bay. The network coordinates World Hepatitis Day events, develops community resources, and provides an avenue for members to share information and opportunities. HepNet members represent organizations such as the Conquer Clinic, Elevate NWO, LiverCare Northwest, NorWest Community Health Centres, Oak Medical Arts, the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy, OATC, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the Thunder Bay Drug Strategy, and more.
Tonya Muchano is the Community Developer for Elevate NWO.
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