In advance of World Hepatitis Day on Saturday, Dr. Morris Markentin is dispelling misconceptions about the disease — the main one being that it’s incurable.
“Eight years ago we didn’t say ‘cured’ for Hepatitis C,” he explained.
“It’s fairly recent, so not only does the general public not know this, but health-care workers also don’t have that knowledge yet, because it’s so new.”
Markentin took a few minutes time between appointments at the Prince Albert Sexual Health Clinic to explain the treatment related to Hepatitis C.
Things aren’t always simple, with patients dealing with different subtypes of the disease, but for about 80 per cent of people, a cure is on the horizon after between six months and a year of treatment.
Some people with Hepatitis C don’t need to worry about treatment at all, because it never affects about a quarter of the people that carry the disease.
“But, it’s important to get tested and it’s very important to be safe,” Markentin was clear to stipulate.
As for the 20 per cent of Hepatitis C patients that cannot be cured, the effects vary.
“About five per cent of people with Hepatitis C will get on to get cirrhosis and die of liver failure unless they have a transplant,” Markentin said.
Using World Hepatitis Day as an excuse to clear the air around the disease, Markentin said that there’s no reason to fear or avoid those carrying the disease.
“Hepatitis C is only transmitted blood to blood, so you can’t get it by touching people, hugging people or sharing utensils in your house,” he said.
“You can live in the same house as someone with Hepatitis C without getting Hepatitis C.”
The source of Hepatitis C is often the biggest deterrent for treatment, as most cases in the Prince Albert area stem from intravenous drug use — a problem not as clear-cut as some people assume.
Before treatment can start, patients must be off of intravenous drugs for at least six months.
“The underlying challenge is helping them to figure out their reason for acquiring Hepatitis C and their reason for still using, and I think that’s where we lack the resources,” Markentin said.
Although there are excellent resources in Prince Albert to clear people of drugs, such as a top-notch methadone clinic and other such supports, it’s in the prevention of drug use altogether that the city needs work on, he clarified.
Hepatitis C is only transmitted blood to blood, so you can’t get it by touching people, hugging people or sharing utensils in your house. - Dr. Morris Markentin
This is exactly what Community Mobilization Prince Albert is working toward, Prince Albert Parkland Health Region addiction services representative Glenis Clarke said.
Community Mobilization links several agencies together from throughout the city to work on individual issues and underlining community problems.
These efforts provide “an opportunity for agencies and the community to work more efficiently together to intervene at an earlier stage … before people get to a point where Hepatitis C and other side-effects of intravenous drug use are part of their world,” Clarke explained.
“Intervention, hopefully, will get to a point where people can fulfil their potential and be healthy.”
This type of intervention is integral, because for most people, intravenous drug use is a symptom of significant personal issues, with Markentin estimating that 80 per cent of clients he sees that have taken intravenous drugs were sexually abused at some point in their lives.
“Most addicts of (intravenous drugs) aren’t people who went to university, went to a few parties and got hooked on drugs,” Markentin said. “They are using because there are underlying issues that lots of us don’t understand.
“If we don’t start to deal with those issues we aren’t going to deal with their addiction.”
Medical assistance for those with Hepatitis C who got the disease through intravenous drug use is but one many important steps along the road to recovery.
“If we can get rid of their Hepatitis C we’ve dealt with a piece of their past that helps them move on,” Markentin said.
In recognition of World Hepatitis Day, the Prince Albert Sexual Health Clinic is holding a get-together from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Monday.
“It’s to get awareness out to the community,” registered nurse Shelley Crawford said. “There is treatment available and help available.”
Crawford heads the monthly Hepatitis C Support Group at the Prince Albert Sexual Health Clinic, located at 101 15th St. E.
Monday’s event will take place at the clinic and is open to anyone interested in learning more about Hepatitis C. Volunteers from the support group will be available to share insight. There will also be displays, educational material and activities.