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This article was published 20/7/2016 (1180 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Provincial health officials are advocating that Manitobans regularly be screened for HIV and that those who have risk factors for the potentially liver-destroying hepatitis C also undergo testing.
"It’s definitely a recognized problem and throughout Canada that there are many people living with HIV or hepatitis C who are unaware of their infections," said Dr. Joss Reimer, provincial medical officer of health responsible for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. "And we’re trying to continuously work at finding those people."
Reimer was responding to questions raised by briefing notes to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen that were published online recently by the new Progressive Conservative government.
The heavily redacted passage relating to health screening programs said there is "a high number of persons living undiagnosed in the community" with HIV and hepatitis C.
Reimer said trying to figure out how many people have an infection without knowing it is always a tricky proposition. However, according to Canadian estimates, about 20 per cent of those with HIV are unaware they have the virus, while as many as 44 per cent with hepatitis C may also be in the dark about their condition.
Hepatitis C and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) are chronic blood-borne infections. HIV is more commonly spread through unprotected sex, while Hep C is spread more through blood-to-blood contact, such as through sharing needles. The latter disease, which can take decades to manifest itself, was also spread through blood transfusions before stricter testing on donated blood began in the early 1990s.
Reimer said testing for HIV should become part of "routine care" for patients — perhaps as regularly as every five years. For those who are at high risk — who have unprotected sex with multiple partners — testing should be done much more frequently, she said.
As for hepatitis C, the province recommends that those who have injected drugs or had a blood transfusion decades ago be tested.
The Canadian Liver Foundation goes as far as to say that all Canadians born between 1945 and 1975 be tested for Hep C — something advocated by American health authorities. (There is no vaccine to guard against the disease.)
Reimer said Manitoba has not recommended blanket screening for this large population group at this point. A national task force is reviewing the issue.
There is also computer modelling that suggests that as many as 1,000 Manitobans who don’t have the main recognized risk factors for hepatitis C may actually be infected, she said. These are folks who say they do not or have not injected drugs, are not baby boomers and who have not or cannot recall having a blood transfusion.
Reimer said it is "unclear" how they would have become infected.
"At this point we’re recommending that people talk to their health care provider as far as their screening needs," she said.
A health professional who asked not to be named because she was unauthorized to speak to the media said there is a troubling trend towards increased drug injection among young people in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This has led to higher HIV spread.
"There appears to be some sort of renaissance of needle use (for injecting drugs in this population)," the health professional said.
Reimer said the situation is mainly confined to Saskatchewan, although there was a "mini-outbreak" of HIV related to needle use last year in western Manitoba.
"Saskatchewan has been going through an HIV epidemic even on top of what the rest of the world is experiencing. And it’s largely due to people injecting and getting it from injection partners," she said. "But overall in Manitoba it’s both heterosexual (sex) and men having sex with men (that) seem to be the primary method of (HIV) spread for the province as a whole."
Of the western Manitoba outbreak connected to needle use, Reimer noted, "at least 80 per cent" of those infected with HIV also had hepatitis C.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.