By Terri Buller-Taylor, Research Manager, Hepatitis Education Canada Hepatitis, Clinical Prevention Services, BC Centre for Disease Control
Chronic hepatitis C infection is a leading cause of liver-related illness and death. Liver disease and cirrhosis cause more deaths in Canada than HIV. Other Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections (STBBIs) can lead to serious health complications and, for people who are pregnant, infectious syphilis can be passed on to their infant and can lead to lifelong health issues and infant death.
In Canada, compared to the overall population, people who are incarcerated experience:
- 30 times higher hepatitis C infection
- 5 times higher HIV infection
- 3 times higher hepatitis B infection
- 5 times higher infectious syphilis
There are sensitive blood tests available to detect STBBIs. Hepatitis C and syphilis are curable infections, while there are very effective treatments to suppress HIV and hepatitis B infection, to prevent the viruses from making copies of themselves and being passed to other people. There is also a very effective vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection, and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure (PEP) medication to prevent HIV infection in certain scenarios. Despite all of this, people who have experienced incarceration face many difficulties in accessing testing and treatment for STBBIs, while in prison and upon return to the community.
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services (BCMHSUS) are collaborating with people with lived/living experience of incarceration, health care workers and corrections staff through the ‘Pathways to STBBI Care in BC Provincial Corrections Project’ (funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada) to develop STBBI policies and guidelines that address barriers to STBBI testing and care in BC corrections.
To learn more about this project, attend our webinar on World Hepatitis Day July 28th from 12pm – 1:15pm PDT. Visit https://hepatitiseducation.med.ubc.ca/2021-july-28-worldhepday-pathways for more info and to register for the event.