Hepatitis C notification program launched
A government program to trace and notify Albertans who received blood transfusions between January 1, 1986, and July 1, 1990 is aimed at encouraging those people to get tested for hepatitis C.
The first step – expected to take several months – requires each of Alberta’s 17 regional health authorities to search hospital records to identify patients who received blood transfusions between those dates. Authorities will report those findings to Alberta Health and Wellness, which will then compare the data to vital statistics records and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan to provide current mailing addresses for the estimated 34,000 Albertans who received blood transfusions during that time.
The next step is for the government to send registered letters to those people advising them about the small possibility of having acquired hepatitis C virus infection and the need to see their physician for testing. Based on a 1998 Health Canada report, about 1,000 Albertans will have acquired hepatitis C from blood transfusion in this time period. All blood donated in Canada after June 1990 has been tested for the virus.
The notification program is expected to cost about $8 million, 50 per cent of which will be paid for by the federal government.
People with hepatitis C – which affects the liver and can be transmitted by infected human blood – often have no symptoms, feel quite healthy, are unaware they have the virus and can carry it unknowingly for years. Advice for many infected people may be as simple as making small lifestyle changes, including avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet.
The Alberta initiative acts on a recommendation from a Health Canada report, released in the spring of 1999. The province has already undertaken a hepatitis C public awareness campaign. The new blood tracking program – which will be carefully monitored and controlled to ensure people’s privacy – gives Albertans the information they need to make their own health decisions.
Alberta and the other federal/provincial/territorial governments agreed to offer $1.1 billion in financial assistance to Canadians infected with hepatitis C virus between those dates. Individuals who received blood or blood products and who have already tested positive for hepatitis C in Canada between January 1, 1986 and July 1,1990 can get information and forms to apply for the financial assistance package by calling 1-877- 434-0944.
For more information contact:
Alberta Health and Wellness
Dr. Bryce Larke
Provincial Medical Consultant
Edmonton, July 07, 2000
Hepatitis C – Questions and Answers
Why are you launching this program?
A financial assistance package is available for Canadians who received blood transfusions between January 1, 1986, and July 1, 1990. The federal, provincial and territorial governments agreed that it is important to take extra steps to trace and notify all those who may be eligible.
Many individuals may be unaware they have been exposed to hepatitis C and would not otherwise consider being tested for the virus because they look and feel healthy. We believe we have a responsibility to give Albertans the information they need to make their own health decisions.
How much will the program cost?
The initiative is expected to cost about $8 million, 50 per cent of which will be paid for by the federal government.
Why this time period?
In 1986 blood banks in the United States and a few other countries began using non-specific blood tests that had been shown to identify some cases of transfusion associated hepatitis. As a result, the Krever Commission determined that Canada could have detected some cases at an earlier phase. A commercial blood test for hepatitis C became available in 1990, and all blood donated in Canada after July 1, 1990 has been tested for hepatitis C.
Are other provinces taking the same steps?
Yes. British Columbia, Saskatchewan and PEI have completed their programs. Other provinces are in various stages of tracing and notifying their recipients.
What financial assistance is available?
Alberta and the other federal/provincial/territorial governments agreed to offer financial assistance of $1.1 billion to Canadians who were infected with hepatitis C virus through blood transfusion between January 1, 1986, and July 1,1990. The courts appointed an administrator for the financial assistance plan. People can call 1-877- 434-0944 to get more details.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver caused by a virus. A blood test to identify persons infected with hepatitis C virus became commercially available in 1990, although the infection was known to exist for many years before then.
How is hepatitis C spread?
Hepatitis C virus is spread by direct blood-to-blood contact with an infected person. The most common means of spreading hepatitis C is through injection drug use, even if the drug use was many years ago or happened only once. Anyone with the hepatitis C virus in their body can pass it on to others by sharing needles and razors. Activities such as tattooing and body piercing, which may occur under less-than-sterile conditions, also can potentially spread the virus. Anyone with a history of injection drug use at any time, past or present, should talk to their doctor about testing for hepatitis C, HIV, and other blood transmitted diseases.
Another way of getting hepatitis C is through a blood transfusion from a donor who carries the virus. Since 1990, the risk of getting hepatitis C in this way is very low because of precautions taken in screening blood donors.
What are the symptoms?
Most people look and feel completely healthy and so are unaware they have hepatitis C. People can carry the disease unknowingly for many years. The most common complaint of people with hepatitis C is fatigue. Only a blood test can detect the presence of hepatitis C infection. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus at any time in your life you should visit your doctor and discuss whether or not you should be tested.
What is the treatment?
Depending on the extent of the disease, advice for many of those infected may be as simple as making certain lifestyle changes, including avoiding alcohol and maintaining a healthy diet. People who have progressive liver damage may benefit from recently developed drug treatment.