Thunder Bay·Audio

Hepatitis C called 'the silent killer' for good reason, educators say

A coalition of Thunder Bay area health and community agencies is marking World Hepatitis Day.

1 in 50 people in Thunder Bay contract the disease — many of whom may not even know they have it

Eric Shih, director of education and community development at Elevate NWO, and Maureen Colpitts, a Hepatitis C treatment nurse with Elevate NWO, are helping to spearhead an awareness campaign about Hepatitis C. (Mary Jean Cormier/CBC)
On World Hepatitis Day we speak with a treatment nurse who helps patients living with the disease in Thunder Bay 8:55

A coalition of Thunder Bay area health and community agencies is marking World Hepatitis Day.

Maureen Colpitts, a Hepatitis C treatment nurse working at Elevate NOW, said the groups are coming together in an effort to try and raise awareness about the disease, including free testing for it.

She said they're most concerned with Hepatitis C, which effects 1 in 50 people in Thunder Bay.

"We're really encouraging people in the baby boomer group to come forward and get tested because there is a very large cohort of people who are Hep C positive, but are completely unaware of it," Colpitts said.

She noted her patients come from all walks of life and that it's extremely important to get tested, whether or not you identify as a high-risk patient. The disease is spread through blood to blood contact

Eric Shih, the director of education and community development at Elevate NWO, said Hepatitis C is a very big issue in the region.

"It's something that is probably a lot bigger than people realize," he said.

"It's often called the silent epidemic because it's something that, when infection happens, you may feel the flu, but it takes it's time to be active. It can live for decades without it showing up," Shih said.

Colpitts note the challenge is helping people to access their treatment because treatment is extremely costly,

She said "Hepatits C can cause liver cancer and create the need for a liver transplant."

Elevate NOW, a local non-profit health organization, had its open house and smudging ceremony on Tuesday at their headquarters in Thunder Bay.

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