By Andrea Arscott, Columnist
In light of World Hepatitis Day, which was celebrated on July 28, it seems fitting to spread awareness on hepatitis. You may think you know a lot about the illness—which causes liver damage—but depending on where you get the information from, there’s a good chance it’s been stretched like a sticky piece of bubble gum. Get your facts straight and chew on this instead.
First of all, there are many forms of the hepatitis virus, but the three most common ones are A, B, and C. Most people are immunized for hep A and B, but there’s no immunization for hep C. Hep A is transmitted when people who have the virus use the washroom, don’t wash their hands properly, and prepare food for you to eat. So, just to be clear, it’s passed by faecal to oral routes (butt to mouth action). It may also be contracted through water, ice cubes, and shellfish that’s been contaminated by sewage. This is why we avoid consuming these substances while vacationing in places such as Mexico. It’s also the reason you should get immunized before heading overseas.
Hep B is transmitted through blood, as well as semen, vaginal fluids, and other body fluids. The BCCDC recommends getting immunized as the vaccine is 95 per cent effective in preventing hep B. Ask your doctor about getting the Twinrix shots, which are a series of three injections given over a period of six months that prevent hep A and B. If you can’t afford the vaccine, you may be eligible to receive it for free from the Youth Clinic or the Adult Community Clinic at the Purpose Society in New West. If you’re planning a trip and you’re getting all your vaccinations from the Vancouver Travel Clinic, they ask that you book an appointment at least four to six weeks in advance of travelling.
Hepatitis C is a little more serious because there’s no vaccine and treatment only acts as a cure for some people. Everyone reacts differently, and according to the Canadian Liver Foundation, hep C is the leading cause of liver transplants in Canada. The virus is transmitted through blood to blood contact. Taking this into consideration, spend a minute thinking about how you might get hep C. What risky activities could involve sharing someone else’s blood? Or, how could you get someone’s blood into one of your body openings?
The most common ways include sharing snorting equipment to snort cocaine, sharing needles to inject drugs, and sharing glass pipes to smoke crack. Less common ways include sharing toothbrushes, razors, or manicure equipment, contaminated piercing and tattoo equipment, and ink. Sharing any item that could have blood on it can be risky. You can’t be sure of a person’s health status, especially if you only know the person from partying or recreational drug use.
Now, let’s talk about sex. You may think you can contract hep C from sex. The truth is the risk is low. Because hep C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, there would have to be blood involved. So, if you have rough unprotected sex or unprotected sex with a female partner during her menstrual period, there could be a risk if your partner has hep C. If you don’t know your partner well, practise safer sex, and use a condom.
Get immunized. Get tested. Wear a condom.
To get tested for hep C, HIV, and STIs, make an appointment at the New Westminster Health Unit by calling 604-777-6740. Ask for free condoms or come down to the Purpose Society at 40 Begbie Street to get some! You can also get your questions answered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org