Frequently Asked Questions

Are you looking for more information? Please check below for answers to the most asked questions.

What is Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. There are other possible causes of hepatitis: exposure to toxic substances (like alcohol, drugs/medications) and autoimmune diseases. Hepatitis can be a self-limiting condition or it can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.

What is the difference between hepatitis viruses?

Five main types of hepatitis viruses have been identified: A, B, C, D and E. While they can cause similar symptoms, there are differences in transmission and the effect they have on the liver.

Hepatitis A virus and hepatitis E virus infections manifest only as an acute infection and do not become chronic. Both are mostly transmitted through consumption of contaminated food or water.

Hepatitis B virus is most commonly spread from mother to infant during childbirth, and through exposure to infected blood or other body fluids (semen, saliva), sharing contaminated needles or other sharp objects.

Hepatitis C virus is mostly transmitted through exposure to infected blood. This can happen during activities such as sharing contaminated needles, syringes or straws when using drugs; using nonsterile tattooing and body piercing equipment; needle stick injury in healthcare settings; being born to a mother who has hepatitis C; and less commonly through sexual contact.

Both hepatitis B and C are NOT spread by sharing food.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems.

Hepatitis D virus infection can only happen in people who are infected with hepatitis B virus. It is transmitted through exposure to infected blood or other body fluids (semen).

Vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B viral infection, but none are available for hepatitis C, D or E viruses.

Is hepatitis a global health problem?

Every year, approximately 1 million deaths are associated with viral hepatitis infections. In terms of liver cancer, Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) cause 78% of the cases.

Why is diagnosis of viral hepatitis important?

The benefits of early intervention are significant. Early diagnosis allows those who have chronic hepatitis B or C infection to take steps towards preventing transmission to others, access current medical therapies and adopt lifestyle changes that will protect the liver from further harm.

For example, safe and effective vaccine is available for the prevention of HBV infection. In addition, treatment of HBV infection in eligible people reduces long-term progression to cirrhosis and will reduce the rate of liver cancer.

Unlike most chronic viral infections, HCV infection is curable. With effective treatment, the virus can be completely eradicated in the majority of patients, preventing liver failure and greatly reduces the risk of liver cancer.

What impact does viral hepatitis have in Canada, specifically?

In Canada, hepatitis C and hepatitis B cause a greater burden of illness than any other infectious disease in the country, surpassing pneumonia, human papilloma virus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS.

Why does Toronto require an initiative like VIRCAN?

Canada, the province of Ontario, and particularly Toronto, draw a large proportion of their immigrants from areas of the world where viral hepatitis is highly prevalent. In fact, Toronto has the largest proportion of foreign-born residents (46%) of all large metropolitan areas according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

What are the current barriers to diagnosis and treatment?

The public is often unaware of their personal risk of viral hepatitis and infection
status, or is unable to access care.

Many healthcare providers are unable to assess risk and don’t test appropriately when risk
factors are present.

When patients are diagnosed, there is a lack of referral and an inadequate number of
providers with the knowledge base and comfort level required to treat the infected
population.

How can viral hepatitis be prevented?

The first step in preventing viral hepatitis is to get tested for hepatitis B and C viral infection. Fortunately, there are effective vaccines readily available for the prevention of hepatitis A and B viral infection. In addition, avoidance of sharing needles, syringes or other sharp objects, safe sex practices, and consumption of clean, safe food and water are all good measures to take in terms of preventing viral hepatitis. Screening for blood to be used in transfusions significantly reduced the transmission of viral hepatitis.