Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Hepatitis C rates some of the highest in Canada

Tuesday is Hepatitis C day in Canada and Cape Breton has the distinction of having some of the highest rates of the disease in the country and one-quarter of all cases in Nova Scotia.

Cape Breton needle exchange handed out 620,000 clean needles last year but rates continue to grow

About 5,000 Nova Scotians have Hepatitis C. (CBC)

Cape Breton has some of the highest rates of Hepatitis C in the country and one-quarter of all cases in Nova Scotia, according to 2013 statistics, a rate health advocates want the province to notice ahead of Hepatitis C Day.

Seventy per cent of those cases are attributed to people sharing equipment to inject drugs. To help combat that, the Cape Breton needle exchange handed out 620,000 clean needles last year, but Hepatitis C rates continue to grow.

A man who goes by the name Ron is a former x-ray technician who contracted the disease even though he said he used clean needles.

"I believe it was from a spoon, not from sharing a needle," he said. "I never did that, but sharing spoons though. Cook the drugs in it. Then say you or me could share what's in there."

Christine Porter heads the Ally Centre and needle exchange. She says they don't always get the needed funding.

"It was only last year in fact, that we could afford to supply cookers that are individually wrapped. I think that's a very, very important piece of work to ensure that all the equipment is being distributed," she said.

Porter says it's time for governments to put more effort into reducing the number of Hepatitis C cases.

"Our standards for bloodborne pathogen prevention services were developed back in 2004 and they haven't been revised or revamped in any way shape or form," she said.

"The province could certainly look at backing those standards with some funding to enable folks to actually take on that work."

About 5,000 Nova Scotians have Hepatitis C, but Porter says the number is likely much higher. She says, many drug users refuse to be tested because of the stigma associated with having Hepatitis C. 

The disease attacks the liver and Porter disagrees with specialists who refuse to treat infected patients unless they're clean for six months.

She says, making those people less contagious would reduce the risk of spreading the disease.

Porter would also like the province to crack down on people who tattoo and pierce without following standards.

Tuesday is Hepatitis C day in Canada.


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