Algoma Public Health says hepatitis C cases on the rise

Public health officials in one northeastern Ontario area say the number of cases of hepatitis C is on the rise.

The viral infection can cause severe liver damage

Hepatitis C is spread by sharing needles, personal care items, piercing equipment and having unprotected sex. (CBC)

Public health officials in one northeastern Ontario area say the number of cases of hepatitis C is on the rise.

Algoma Public Health, with offices in Wawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Blind River and Elliot Lake, reported that the rate of new cases between 2012 and 2016 increased by 7.2 per cent, compared to a province-wide decrease of four per cent.

Similarly, according to health unit spokesperson Liisa Daoust, Algoma's rates for those aged 20 to 29 are almost four per cent higher than the provincial average.

Part of that, she told CBC News, is due to lack of education.

"Three years ago we did a survey, and a lot of the kids in Grade 7 that are getting vaccinated don't realize that hepatitis C is not in the vaccine," she said.

"So, we've really focused for the last three years on educating kids, as far as what they're being vaccinated for, and then on how you can get hep C."

Daoust said hepatitis C is spread by sharing needles, personal care items, and piercing equipment, as well as having unprotected sex. If left untreated, the viral disease can result in liver damage or cancer.

"In the Grade 7 population we're talking to them about [that] they're getting vaccinated for hepatitis B and that there is not a vaccine for hepatitis C," she said.

"Then for the general population, we talk about reducing risk by telling them to make sure that they're practising safe sex, not sharing any personal care items, making sure that they know not to share needles, and that they should be checking inspection reports at spas and salons and [tattoo] parlours."

The Algoma district also reported it had a higher rate of new cases of hepatitis C in other age groups, like those under 19 and people aged 30 to 39 and 40 to 49.

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