In a community battling hepatitis C rates that more than double the provincial rate, Prince Albert’s Hepatitis C Support Group serves an important role.
“The clients that come to our support groups may be family members of people living with the virus and they might want to learn more,” registered nurse Shelley Crawford said.
“They might be clients living with the virus themselves and might want to learn more about the treatments.
Crawford heads the monthly Hepatitis C Support Group at the Prince Albert Sexual Health Clinic.
“We have clients that come and donate their time as support people to give their experiences on what the treatment was like and what they would have done differently or what they did to help them through treatment,” she said.
“They’re inspirations for the group.”
The meetings foster a social atmosphere where people feel comfortable discussing their condition and share insight on how to deal with the diseases, Crawford said. Noting that sometimes people feel more comfortable talking to other people who are living with the same condition.
“I think people feel more comfortable talking to other people who are living with the same thing. It’s inspirational to hear other individuals who have fought the illness, who have went through the treatment — they just feel inspired by those people,” she said.
Simple life tips, such as limiting or eliminating one’s alcohol consumption, can make a big difference, Crawford said.
“If you add alcohol to the mix it can dramatically increase (hepatitis C’s) progression,” she said.
“It can be quite slow, but if you’re leading an unhealthy lifestyle, if you’re drinking, the progression can rapidly increase.”
There’s a lot to know about hepatitis C, but the main thing Crawford would like to see the community realize is that not everyone with the disease got it through intravenous drug use.
“I think people feel more comfortable talking to other people who are living with the same thing. It’s inspirational to hear other individuals who have fought the illness, who have went through the treatment — they just feel inspired by those people. - Registered nurse Shelley Crawford
“Clients … have lived in silence because of the stigma and discrimination they fear or have already experienced in their life,” Crawford said, noting that some of these people avoid treatment.
“As soon as (people) hear hepatitis C they automatically think injection drugs, and we’d like to encourage people to not think that way. Lots of our clients have had no risk factors that they know of and they’re (hepatitis C) positive.”
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which most commonly occurs during intravenous drug use — the simple act of sharing one of the many drug implements during the process of getting high enough to transmit the disease.
The same can apply with personal hygiene products. A toothbrush with some blood on it shared could result in transmission of the disease.
Blood transfusions prior to 1992 could have also transmitted the disease, Crawford said.
“We really urge clients that have ever had a blood transfusion prior to 1992 to talk to their doctors,” she said.
With greater awareness in the community around hepatitis C, Crawford hopes to see more people turn up for their monthly support group meetings.
By reaching out to more people and spreading the word, “we just hope that people will feel more comfortable coming in,” she said.
“It just brings people together in a social way and that brings spontaneous discussions around people’s experiences. We really try to make the environment a friendly, caring and therapeutic and informative as well.”
The next Hepatitis C Support Group meeting will take place Wednesday, June 27, at the Prince Albert Sexual Health Clinic, located at 101 15th St. E.