July 28th marks World Hepatitis Day, a global day of awareness for increased prevention, testing, and treatment of hepatitis B and C.

 In Ontario many of us are fortunate enough to have received the hepatitis B vaccine in grade 7 or so. However, even though the vaccine is easily accessible though school-based programs, only about 70% of us have been vaccinated. Another consideration is the possibility that the immunity generated by the vaccine can decrease as we age, and therefore we may not be fully protected.

Luckily, because a vaccine is available we have the ability to wipe out the majority of new infections. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been vaccinated — it’s worth it to ask your healthcare provider whether you have enough antibodies to protect you if you were exposed.

Hepatitis C is a bit of a different story, and I have had clients who thought they were vaccinated against it, because of the word hepatitis (hepatitis B) — and it’s true — they are alike. Both are viruses that affect the liver and can lead to liver disease or even liver failure — but many people do not have symptoms for years or even decades. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, and therefore prevention is a priority. Hepatitis C has significant health consequences, and in fact it causes more years of life lost in Ontario than any other infectious disease.

Source: Ontario Burden of Infectious Disease Study, 2010

In terms of sexual health, hepatitis C is not transmitted very often or easily, but any activities with even small amounts of blood increase risk. This could include rough sex, or intercourse while menstruating, both of which are common. Another risk factor is the use of sex toys, as hepatitis C can live outside the body for many days, so using condoms on sex toys and cleaning between partners is of the utmost importance. The exciting thing is that getting a simple blood test for hepatitis C could save your life — as there is now a cure!

1s, 2s, 3s….

1-Prevention: If you were vaccinated against hepatitis B, then you are likely protected, but you can always ask your healthcare provider to have your “titers checked”. If you weren’t vaccinated, you can call your local public health unit to ask about free vaccinations. As both are transmitted sexually, prevention for both hepatitis B and C also includes the use condoms or barriers during all types of sex.

2-Screening: A single blood test is required to look for hepatitis B and C. This can be done with your healthcare provider or through public health.

3-Treatment: Hepatitis B is a chronic manageable infection, much like other diseases such as diabetes. It can require daily medication and seeing a specialist, but is well managed with this care. Hepatitis C is now a curable infection. This is not to make light of it, because treatment can take time to initiate, and your liver may be damaged, but it’s no longer a life-long infection — which is great news!

Join me in the #ShowYourFace campaign for World Hepatitis Day 2017 to increase awareness!

Source: World Health Organization, 2017