Hepatitis C Information for Immigrants and Newcomers
Learn more about hepatitis C in your language
This website provides basic up-to-date hepatitis C information in languages spoken in Ontario’s largest immigrant communities.
Hepatitis C among newcomers and immigrants to Canada
One in three people affected by hepatitis C in Canada is foreign-born, mostly from countries with high rates of hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is more common among some immigrant groups than in Canada’s general population. This is why it’s important for you to know more about hepatitis C and get tested.
Hepatitis C and the Liver
Hepatitis C is a virus that injures the liver.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. When the virus enters the bloodstream it is carried to the liver, where it infects the liver cells and begins to make copies of itself. About 25% of people spontaneously clear the virus on their own within a few months. About 75% of people do not clear the virus on their own and go on to develop a long-term infection. The virus multiplies by taking over liver cells, and the body’s immune system tries to fight it off. This leads to inflammation and injury in the liver. Over time, this injury leads to scar tissue called fibrosis.
For most people, liver injury happens gradually. People can live with hepatitis C for 20 to 30 years or more without feeling sick, even though the virus is still injuring the liver. Over time, a person can develop heavier scarring and hardening of the liver. This is called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer, liver failure or death.
There is treatment for hepatitis C that is highly effective and cures almost everyone.
The liver is an essential organ that helps the body fight infections, break down toxins (poisons) and drugs, digest food, and more.
The liver is very important because it:
- filters chemicals and other substances that enter the body
- aids in digestion
- helps the production of your blood and many proteins
The liver is very tough and can often heal itself. Still, viruses, alcohol, chemicals and some medicines can permanently damage your liver over time and affect its ability to function.
You cannot live without your liver.
Hepatitis C Transmission
Hepatitis C is passed blood to blood.
Hepatitis C does not spread through casual contact or by hugging, kissing or touching a person who has the virus. Nor does it spread if new or properly sterilized equipment is used during medical procedures or drug use.
The virus gets into the blood through breaks or tears in the skin or other protective layers of the body. Hepatitis C is a strong virus—it can live outside of the body for many days. This means that the virus can be spread via dried blood.
Hepatitis C is often transmitted by:
- Re-using medical, dental or surgical equipment that was not sterilized properly. In Canada, medical, dental and surgical equipment is sterilized properly. In some medical facilities outside of Canada, this equipment may not be properly sterilized.
- Getting a blood transfusion or organ transplant that was not screened for hepatitis C. In Canada, donated blood has been screened for hepatitis C since 1990. Some countries did not start to screen until more recently.
- Sharing needles and equipment used for preparing and injecting drugs (including needles, syringes, tourniquets or ties, cookers, spoons, filters, water and swabs).
- Re-using tools for piercing and tattooing (including needles, ink and ink pots) or for electrolysis or acupuncture.
Other ways hepatitis C can get inside the body:
- Sharing or borrowing personal care items that might have blood on them, such as razors, nail clippers and toothbrushes. This includes shaving at community barber shops, when razors are re-used.
- Some practices used by traditional healers that involve cutting or piercing the skin, such as wet cupping.
- Sexual transmission of hepatitis C is not common. Transmission through heterosexual sex is very rare and transmission through condomless anal sex between men is rare. The risk increases when certain factors are present, such as HIV, sexually transmitted infections, sex where blood is present and chemsex (using street drugs to enhance and prolong sex).
- The risk of hepatitis C passing from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth is generally low in Canada. However, it might be higher in cases of children born to mothers with hepatitis C in other countries where healthcare practices are different.
Hepatitis C Testing
You can have hepatitis C and not know it.
Getting tested is the only way to find out if you have hepatitis C. It usually takes two blood tests to tell whether you have hepatitis C.
- The hepatitis C antibody test checks whether you have ever come in contact with the virus.
- The confirmatory test confirms whether the virus is currently in your body.
Testing is getting simpler all the time. Speak to your healthcare provider and make sure that you are receiving your confirmatory test result and not just the hepatitis C antibody test.
Whether a person clears the virus on their own within the first few months or through hepatitis C treatment, there will always be antibodies in the blood. Only a person with a positive confirmatory test can pass hepatitis C to someone else.
Hepatitis C Treatment
Hepatitis C can be cured!
Hepatitis C treatment is highly effective and cures almost everyone. Most people need treatment to cure hepatitis C. Hepatitis C treatments are called direct-acting antivirals, or DAAs. They come in pill form, are easy to take, have few side effects and are taken for a short time.
Everyone who has hepatitis C should talk to their service provider about their treatment options.
The goal of hepatitis C treatment is to:
- clear the virus from the body
- minimize liver injury
- improve a person’s quality of life
- prevent the spread of hepatitis C to other people—if a person is cured of hepatitis C, it means the virus can no longer be detected in the body and won’t get passed to other people
Preparing for treatment
There are a number of treatment options for hepatitis C. When choosing a treatment option, factors to consider include:
- the amount of liver injury
- the strain or genotype, of the virus
- whether or not the person has been treated before
- medications the person is already taking
- other health conditions
Getting ready for treatment means creating a plan with your healthcare provider and making sure you have the support you need from family and friends to stick to your treatment. Healthcare providers will evaluate patients before, during and after treatment.
Treatment can save a person’s liver and their life.
A cure will clear the virus from the body but does NOT protect against re-infection.
People do not develop immunity to hepatitis C after being cured of the virus, so it is possible to get re-infected. Taking steps to avoid coming in contact with the virus again (re-exposure) will help you continue to live without hepatitis C.
If you are re-exposed to the hepatitis C virus, test positive for hepatitis C and do not spontaneously clear the virus after re-infection, you will need to be treated again.
Hepatitis A and B: The Differences
Hepatitis C is different from hepatitis A and B.
Hepatitis A is transmitted when people unknowingly ingest fecal matter (poo), usually through contaminated water or food. Nearly all people clear hepatitis A without taking medication and the body becomes immune to the virus.
Hepatitis B can be spread when the blood, semen or vaginal fluid of a person who has hepatitis B enters the body of another person who does not have hepatitis B. Hepatitis B can also be passed to a baby during childbirth. Most people who get hepatitis B as adults clear it on their own and their body becomes immune to it. If a person does not clear hepatitis B on their own, they develop a chronic infection. The chance of developing chronic hepatitis B becomes greater if a person is exposed to it at a young age. A person with a chronic hepatitis B infection can go on to develop long-term liver problems. Treatment can help slow down and manage the virus. Unfortunately, chronic hepatitis B cannot be cured at this point.
There are vaccines that protect against hepatitis A and hepatitis B, and you can get them. There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but there is a cure.
Hepatitis C Services Near You
Find a hepatitis C service near you. People living in Canada can use this online tool to find services available in their area: http://hcv411.ca/
In Ontario, people can contact Sexual Health Infoline Ontario to get information about hepatitis, HIV and sexual health. It offers services in Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese and many other languages. When you call, you may be given a specific time to talk to a counsellor in your preferred language. They can also refer you to a clinic in Ontario to get tested.
Call toll-free in Ontario: 1-800-686-7544
Monday to Friday: 10 am – 10:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11 am – 3 pm
Outside of Ontario, contact your local healthcare provider.