Blood Ties health education coordinator Brontë Renwick-Shields speaks to people at a community BBQ and hepatitis C testing clinic at the Salvation Army in Whitehorse July 21. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Blood Ties Four Directions holds BBQ for hep C awareness

Baby boomers, people who share needles most at risk of contracting disease

Are you a baby boomer? Do you share toothbrushes, razors or pipes with other people? Have you come into contact with another person’s blood?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you should get tested for hepatitis C.

That was the message Friday afternoon at a free BBQ and testing clinic at hosted by Blood Ties Four Directions in the Whitehorse Salvation Army parking lot, a week ahead of World Hepatitis Day.

“Hep C is a virus that can stay in the body for a long time without producing any symptoms, so it can be 20, 30 years before someone has any symptoms of hep C, which means they can not know that they’re sick,” said Blood Ties health education coordinator Brontë Renwick-Shields. “Getting tested is the only way to know.”

Renwick-Shields was one of several employees and volunteers helping to run the fourth edition of the annual event, where, on top of getting free food and playing carnival games, the roughly 200 people who attended could go into a nearby building and get tested for hepatitis C and HIV.

Among the attendees was Joseph Jack, who heard about the BBQ on the radio. He initially came for the free hot dogs and hamburgers but got himself tested for hepatitis C too, something he said he probably wouldn’t have thought of doing had he not come to the event.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Jack said, adding that he’d like to come back next year.

Hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver, which can eventually lead to liver damage, cancer and death. According to Yukon Health and Social Services, hepatitis C, which is spread by blood-to-blood contact, is the most common type of the disease in the territory. The health department estimates 1,000 Yukoners are living with it.

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C, although it is curable with proper treatment. Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 Canadians are thought to be infected, with more than 75 per cent of those people in the baby boomer age category.

Baby boomers are particularly at risk of being infected because of medical standards at the time surrounding procedures like blood transfusions and organ transplants, Renwick-Shields said. Also at risk are people who share items like needles, including for tattoos and piercings, and personal hygiene items like toothbrushes, razors and nail clippers.

“We recommend a one-time testing for baby boomers.… We recommend that people get tested so they can get treatment and so they can go through that process before they get sick,” Renwick-Shields said.

Hepatitis C testing is available for free at all health care centres in the Yukon except the Whitehorse Health Centre. Whitehorse residents can get tested by their doctors, Yukon Communicable Disease Control and at the Kwanlin Dün Health Centre.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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