While the number of hepatitis C cases in Niagara already exceeds the provincial average, there could be far more people who remain undiagnosed in the region, warned Brenda Yeandle, Niagara Health’s clinical and addiction services manager.
Niagara Region Public Health reported 196 case of Hepatitis C in 2021, which is significantly higher than in other jurisdictions.
But because the virus — it’s spread through blood-to-blood contact — doesn’t always result in symptoms being exhibited until years after infection in some cases, she said people often don’t get tested for it.
“If you feel you may have been exposed, it’s extremely important to get tested and not take a chance in not knowing your hepatitis C status,” Yeandle said in a media release.
She said the hospital system’s Hepatitis C Care clinic has continued to provide testing services for the virus throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday, the hospital system teamed up with more than 30 community partners for an event at Montebello Park to raise awareness about the virus, in advance of World Hepatitis Day on July 28.
It was the first of two events Niagara Health is planning, with the second taking place next Thursday at St. Andrews United Church, 5645 Morrison St., Niagara Falls, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Private hepatitis C testing is being offered at both events, provided by registered nurses from Niagara Health as well as public health’s outreach services program.
Karen Usick, community co-ordinator for the hospital system’s hepatitis C clinic, said the testing process is simple and new treatment medications are highly effective.
But left untreated, the hospital system warned that the virus which attacks the liver can result in the development of cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
It is the first time the Niagara Health clinic, established in 2011, has hosted in-person hepatitis C awareness events since 2019, due to COVID-19, and the first time two events have been organized.
Across Ontario there were 2,833 cases in 2020, 32 hospitalizations and six deaths, and in the first quarter of this year, Public Health Ontario reports 661 cases across the province.
More information is available by visit the hepatitis C care clinic website or, by calling 905-378-4647 ext. 32554, or by email to HCCC@niagarahealth.on.ca.