Rates of Hepatitis C double in P.E.I.

Teresa Wright
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Dr. Lamont Sweet says rising number of cases will impact Prince Edward Island's health system in coming years

Deputy chief health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet says hepatitis C numbers are rising in Prince Edward Island.

A growing number of Islanders are becoming infected with hepatitis C due to intravenous drug use – a situation the deputy chief health officer says is one of his biggest concerns.

Rates of new cases of hepatitis C have doubled over the last decade, with an average of 50 new cases a year now being diagnosed in the province.

Dr. Lamont Sweet, deputy chief health officer for P.E.I., says 45 of those 50 cases are caused by intravenous drug use.

“It’s a significant problem,” Sweet said.

And it’s a problem now affecting a younger population than ever before in P.E.I.

“We get many, many cases now that are individuals between 20 and 30 years of age… at least 50 per cent,” Sweet said.

“This is a big change from 15 years ago. I can tell you, 15 years ago, to have someone in their 20s to 30s, it would be probably well less than 10 per cent (of cases).”

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver. It is mainly spread through the sharing of needles. Sweet said it can also be spread by sharing straws when sniffing or snorting drugs.

Eighty-five per cent of those who become infected with hepatitis C will develop chronic, long-term liver infections that will last for the remainder of their lives.

Sweet said the growing rates of this virus will have major impacts on P.E.I.’s health system in the coming years.

“It’s predicted that hepatitis C will become the major reason for liver transplants in the future, probably within a very few years,” he said.

“It’s a tremendous load on the system as far as liver failure is concerned, as far as illness is concerned… treating hepatitis C is very difficult and extremely costly.”

One course of treatment for one patient usually costs at least $10,000, sometimes more, Sweet said.

And this does not factor in the added costs of hospitalization and ongoing care for patients who deal with the lifelong symptoms of this chronic disease.

The province noted the rising rates of hepatitis C and in 2009 began offering a needle exchange program to help curb this concerning trend.

In 2011, approximately 88,000 needles were distributed and over 75,000 returned for safe disposal, according to the 2012 health trends report from P.E.I.’s chief public health office.

In 2012, 112,000 needles were collected.

Sweet says this program has helped to level off the steady increases of hepatitis C the province had been seeing, but the rate of 50 new cases a year is not going down.

“We’re hoping that the needle program is keeping it from going higher, because it was increasing, and in the future, if they are using, that the needle exchange program will help.”

During a recent meeting of the standing committee on health and social development, Deputy Health Minister Michael Mayne drew a direct link to the alarming rates of youth in P.E.I. becoming addicted to prescription drugs and the increasing rates of hepatitis C.

He pointed to statistics showing a jump in the number of intravenous (IV) drug users admitted to the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility at Mount Herbert this year. Last year, 328 IV drug users were admitted for treatment. So far this year, 462 have been admitted – an increase of 40 per cent.

“IV drug users will report taking on the IV dependency after previously being addicted to opiates,” Mayne told the health committee last week.

“They actually will inject or use opiates and then become an IV drug user, which then shows up in our system through increased prevalence of hepatitis, and from cirrhosis issues, liver issues. These people end up with significant medical conditions… There’s significant costs not only at this point but through the longitudinal treatment of these individuals.”

Sweet says he hopes increased awareness of the risks of contracting this virus through injecting drugs will discourage Islanders from sharing needles or from injecting drugs at all.

“It is one of the biggest concerns I think that we have now as far as public health is concerned,” Sweet said.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Geographic location: P.E.I., Mount Herbert

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Recent comments

  • TO ONE OF THE FIVE
    June 13, 2013 - 16:16

    to one of the five.......that's terrible the way you were treated but not a surprise. It may be time for the medical professionals to get informed, to stop assuming , and to treat people like people not like dirt. When the Dr here was diagnosed with Hep C ,there was a respectful edge to the reporting as there should be for anyone with any disease. Stop the GOD playing and discriminating . Thank goodness for the informed and non judgemental doctors. Hiss to the others. For Mr Sweet to say theres only 5 cases not from drugs is risky, what makes him think others will come forward to b e tested when theres a stigma and prejudice already towards care of these patients.

  • ONE OF THE FIVE
    June 12, 2013 - 19:02

    JUDGED: I would like to read more regarding the five that contracts hep c from other sources. In the last month I myself had to stay in the Q.E.H. for seven days under the care of 4 doctors, On the seventh day of my stay, my own doctor of 27 years came into my room, informed me I was a junky, needle user and any comfort that was given to me for pain was cut off.(Because I was diagnosed with Hep C) I was told that "you can lay there and suffer because you are not getting addicted to pain medications on my (Doctors) watch". So rather than suffer in hospital I left and suffered in my own bed. If your Hep C positive BEWARE and hopefully YOUR NOT ACCUSED of being an ADDICT AS I WAS. Today I am left with no income, no doctor and hep c .I DID work in the Moving Business for the last fifteen years?? ??????????........WHERE AM I LEFT. IN THE DITCH. ( WHERE,S THE FAIRNESS?????????).John.................................................

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    June 12, 2013 - 17:37

    Contracting hepatitis c was one of the turning points in my drug addiction. Why ... because it scared me. It scared me into "considering" quitting. I say consider quitting because fear alone is not enough in most cases to force someone to quit. Overdoses, seizures, the feel of the defib paddles, the burning of the chest, they wake you up and you overdose again because your heart starts circulating the drug through your body again, hurting your loved ones, and the separation from loved ones are all reasons to quit ... but rarely will these reasons be enough to cause you to quit. Rose Barbour's letter to the editor was one of the best pieces on addiction I have read. I am with her when she says (paraphrasing) waiting until your addicted loved ones are ready to quit may be too late as many addicts on the Island have died over the last 3 to 4 years. OUR LOVED ONES NEED REAL HELP, NOT BAND AIDS. I was lucky, God blessed me. I was diagnosed with Hep C over 15 years ago and I am very healthy now, thank God.

  • stigma exsists
    June 12, 2013 - 16:23

    Just the picture of needles set like that in the paper makes it have a sleazy portrayal.Was there not a Dr that had it here? I hope he is doing well and not discriminated against. What I am saying is it can happen to anyone and in a few different ways. You would think medical people would be not judgemental. Someone I know had to go in for a test to eliminate it as a cause of their disease............and were treated in an odd manner . And turns out they did not have hepatitis but briefly told me they had felt the stigma just by being tested. Asked to handle their specimen and place it in the basket themselves. Labelling is alive and unwell. It is 2013!

  • Who knows, and where's the knowledge?
    June 12, 2013 - 13:14

    Let's get deep and informed continous discussion on this important problem. Here's where investigative journalism should meet 21st century social media. Come on Guardian, you're not to blame for the problem, but you're part of the problem if you don't abandon a "push out" mode and move towards interactive discursive mediums.

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      June 12, 2013 - 15:59

      I agree but you should probably tell people what you are talking about. See the link http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/592/1285

  • amy
    June 12, 2013 - 10:58

    if the government knows how bad the drug issues are, than why cant you do something to help fix it. mt herbert, is absolutely useless. a seven day detox program is not long enough for an iv drug user, to get sober. it takes a lot longer than seven days. the government has all this money, and is spending it in places and on things that noone even cares about, than why cant you take even a portion of that money and put it into out provincial detox centre, make it a better program. expand it, so people dont have to wait nearly a month or more to get into it. give the patients a little bit more to do while in there, than just sit around and watch tv all day long. thats a big reason in why people dont even last the seven days. there is nothing to do but sit around all day long, which does nothing but give you time to relapse. theres all these news articles, and discussions about how pei iv usage is concidered and epidemic, and how there is more people ending up in jails or dead because of it, well if the government was really that concerned about it, then do something about it, and help them.

  • Bill Kays
    Bill Kays
    June 12, 2013 - 08:54

    If the government knows that sharing of syringes is increasing the risk of you getting hep c, then you would think that government would maintain a needle exchange program or better yet provide (through pharmacies) free syringes to anyone that asks for them. Better free needles instead of long expensive hospital stays.

  • its a bit more than that?
    June 12, 2013 - 08:05

    Now the people who did NOT get that disease from drug use will probably be labelled after reading this article. Nice one. Not fair.

    • No one should be Judged
      June 12, 2013 - 14:36

      No One has the right to Judge anyone..let alone labels..Addiction is a disease..IV drug use, is a symptom of that disease.What is not fair is there is not adequate treatment out there for this disease.

    • SIP
      June 12, 2013 - 17:22

      I have a hard time saying something is a disease when you have full control over whether you ever "catch" it. Try to prevent cancer by never trying it out.

  • GetReal
    June 12, 2013 - 06:52

    And the methadone program at Mt. Herbert has been cancelled... explain how this is gonna help, Mr. Currie!

  • David Holland
    June 12, 2013 - 04:02

    Although the article contains significant and important information, the general public should be aware that all levels of the medical profession are at significant risk with respect to contracting Hepatitis C. Laboratory Technologists, Nurses, Doctors and EMS Technicians are still required to be vigilant for a wide range of diseases and viruses, including Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, many of those people working in the medical professions 30 to 40 years ago are now suffering from Hepatitis C as a result of the unsafe medical practices that were so common at that time. Today's treatment for Hepatitis C is very radical and involves 11 months of pills and injections, and even then, there is no guarantee that the treatment will eradicate the virus.