Pubdate: Thu, 02 Aug 2012
Source: Abbotsford Times (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Abbotsford Times
Author: Rochelle Baker


Like Countless Canadians, Dad Didn't Know He Had Hepatitis C, While 
UBC Expert Calls Abbotsford's Needle Exchange Ban 'Boggling'

Two years ago Abbotsford dad Chris Robinson's stomach suddenly 
started to swell so much it looked like he'd swallowed a small TV.

After a series of tests, a grave-faced specialist sat Robinson down 
and told him he had hepatitis C and the disease had ravaged his liver.

The disease was so advanced his body wouldn't be able to cope with 
treatment and he needed a transplant.

Robinson was stunned. Before that moment he had no serious symptoms 
to alert him about the life threatening disease, which he likely 
contracted more than a decade ago.

The single dad's first thought was for his 10 year-old son.

"I asked the liver specialist man-to-man, 'how long do I have?'" Robinson said.

"He told me 10 years, and that was two years ago."

As the family's sole caretaker and breadwinner, the 52-year old is 
struggling to avoid a transplant until his now 12-year-old son is 16.

So far things are looking as good as they can under the circumstances.

On three medications to deal with the symptoms of the disease, 
Robinson is in relatively good shape at the moment.

However, he's speaking about the disease, along with the Canadian 
Liver Foundation, to raise awareness about World Hepatitis Day, 
recognized July 28, so others don't follow in his footsteps.

He wants people to take measures to protect themselves from 
contracting Hep C and get tested, so early treatment is an option.

"Since I've been diagnosed, I've been shocked about how little people 
know about the disease," Robinson said.

"Nobody seems to talk about it, but it's quite a scary and silent killer."

British Columbia has the highest rate of infection in Canada, 
according to the CLF.

An estimated 50,000 people have the disease in B.C., and 
approximately 300 new cases pop up each month.

But Abbotsford's Hep C rates are even higher.

Abbotsford's infection rate for 2010 was 64.4 per cent per 100,000 
population versus a provincial rate of 54.9 and a Canadian rate of 
33.7 in 2009, state recent Fraser Health reports.

Dr. Eric Yoshida, head of gastroenterology at the University of B.C. 
and Vancouver General hospitals, said many infections occur through 
intravenous drug use, but any blood-to blood contact can result in 

As such, many people may never know how they contracted the disease, 
and baby boomers born between 1945 and 1964 are considered 
particularly vulnerable and should get tested.

Early detection is the key to successful treatment, said Yoshida.

"We now have good antiviral medication that can eradicate Hep C in 
patients if they get access to the drugs and see doctors," he said.

Given the prevalence and seriousness of Hep C, both Yoshida and 
Robinson expressed dismay at Abbostford's anti-harm reduction bylaw 
that bans needle exchanges for drug users.

There is a long-standing body of research that demonstrates needle 
exchanges reduce the risk of transmission of Hep C and HIV, said Dr. Yoshida.

"To be honest [the needle exchange ban] boggles my mind," he said.

"The rationale must not be medical. It must be based on individual 
moral beliefs or political ideology. I thought those arguments were 
done with 20 years ago."

Robinson, who likely contracted Hep C from injection drug use, is 
disturbed the city has a policy that could increase the chances 
someone else could contract the potentially fatal disease.

He gave up drugs for good more than a decade ago when his son was 
born, but not before contracting Hep C, likely from a dirty needle.

"A needle exchange is just good common sense . . . if sharing needles 
is causing all this pain with the disease," said Robinson.

"I clock it back to my youth in Ottawa . . .where needles were hard to get.

"I must have used a dirty needle. It only took the once."

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The Canadian Liver Foundation is trying to increase awareness around 
Hep C and World Hepititis Day, which took place July 28. CLF 
recommends everyone of "baby boomer" age get tested for the disease.

For more information from the CLF on Hep C prevention, testing and 
treatment visit .
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