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About Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV

Hepatitis C – a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus – is a major public health concern in certain immigrant ethnic communities in Canada. The CEC has paid particular attention to individuals from the Chinese, Egyptian, Filipino, South Asian, and Vietnamese communities because their home countries have particularly high rates of infection (3% or higher). People from these communities are also at a higher risk for hepatitis B and HIV, which are spread in a similar way (i.e. blood to blood and sexual contact).

Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV are easily preventable. They are also treatable! However, because people in the community do not know how these viruses are spread and how they can be prevented or treated, they continue to spread. Stigma and a fear of being judged prevents people from asking healthcare professionals about how to protect themselves or others. However, it is important for people to know that, in Canada, it is illegal to treat a person differently because of a medical condition.

Getting tested is the only way to know if you are infected. These viral infections are treatable, but the treatments work best when started early.

Below are some facts about Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B, and HIV, as well as links to fact sheets about prevalence rates and other factors relevant to people specifically from the 5 communities of focus.

Hepatitis C

  • Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus.
  • It is spread through blood-to-blood contact with a person carrying the virus.
  • Approximately 25% of people clear the virus after initial infection. However, in 75% of cases, it becomes a chronic (long-term) infection.
  • Chronic hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and/or liver cancer.
  • Treatment available in Canada can cure the infection.
  • Those most at risk are:
    • People born between 1945 and 1975 (age group with the highest risk for HCV);
    • People who have come into contact with the blood of another person through the use of unsterilized needles for medical or dental procedures, tattoos, or injection drug use.
  • The illness is diagnosed through simple blood tests.
  • There is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, but it can be prevented.

Hepatitis B

  • Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus.
  • It is spread through contact with the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of an infected person.
  • In 90% of adults, the hepatitis B virus can be cleared on its own. But, if contracted early in childhood, it becomes chronic in 90% of cases and treatment is necessary.
  • Chronic hepatitis B can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver and/or liver cancer.
  • Those most at risk are:
    • Children born to mothers with hepatitis B;
    • People who have come into contact with the blood of another person through the use of unsterilized needles for medical or dental procedures, tattoos, or injection drug use;
    • People who have had unprotected sexual intercourse with a person who is infected.
  • The virus is detected through a simple blood test.
  • Treatment for chronic hepatitis B is available; it controls the virus and limits its ability to replicate. However, there is no complete cure.
  • Hepatitis B is preventable with safe and effective vaccines. Talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated!

HIV

  • HIV is a virus that affects the immune system and weakens an individual’s ability to fight against infections. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage.
  • It is spread through contact with the blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk of an infected person.
  • Those most at risk are:
    • People who have come into contact with the blood of another person through the use of unsterilized needles for medical or dental procedures, tattoos, or injection drug use;
    • People who have had unprotected sexual intercourse with a person who is infected;
    • Children born to mothers with HIV.
  • The virus can be detected through a simple blood test.
  • There is no cure for HIV, but there is treatment that can effectively control the virus.
  • Without treatment, the individual can develop severe illnesses like tuberculosis and cancer.
  • There is currently no vaccine for HIV but it can be easily prevented. Talk to your doctor.