Viral Hepatitis

Viral hepatitis can be caused by a number of different viruses, all which affect the liver. The viruses of most concern in British Columbia are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A

Most people in B.C. are exposed to the hepatitis A virus through contaminated food or water. This virus causes a mostly self-limiting illness that does not progress to chronic disease. A vaccine to prevent hepatitis A is publicly funded in B.C. for certain populations that are disproportionately affected by the disease. 

Hepatitis B 

The hepatitis B virus is transmitted through contact with blood or body fluids of someone living with hepatitis B. A vaccine to prevent hepatitis B is publicly funded for British Columbians born after 1981, and a number of other populations that are disproportionately affected by hepatitis B. Approximately 95 per cent of people will recover with no lasting illness. However, a small portion of people develop chronic hepatitis B, a lifelong illness that can cause serious liver disease.

Hepatitis C 

People in B.C. most often come into contact with the hepatitis C virus through contact with blood containing the virus. In B.C., the vast majority of new infections are in people who identify as injecting drugs. However, there are other populations that are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C, including Aboriginals, people from countries where hepatitis C is endemic, and people who have resided in correctional facilities. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C. Approximately 25 per cent of people who are exposed to the virus are able to fight it off on their own. The rest will develop chronic hepatitis C infection. Of these people, approximately 15-25 per cent will develop serious liver disease that can lead to liver cancer or require a liver transplant. 

Policy

Released in 2007, Healthy Pathways Forward provided health system guidance on preventing hepatitis A, B and C, and providing care and support for people living with chronic disease. A 2010 progress report identified a decrease in the number of new viral hepatitis infections in B.C., but continued challenges in reaching and engaging people in prevention, testing, treatment and care across British Columbia. In 2015, the Ministry of Health began a process to refresh its strategic policy related to viral hepatitis.

Resources

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