The Nunavut Department of Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and the University of Manitoba will conduct a voluntary survey among the Nunavummiut in the Baffin and Kivalliq regions to determine the prevalence of hepatitis B and C and to ascertain the effectiveness of the government’s hepatitis immunization program. Participants may agree to be part of the survey when they visit their local health center for routine tests that require blood samples. The Canadian government estimates that Inuit are seven times more likely to have hepatitis B than “non-aboriginal Canadians.”
Hepatitis B transmission occurs through blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or saliva. Less than one percent of hepatitis B-infected people die from the initial infection, and most people fight off the virus on their own. Approximately 1 in 10 hepatitis B-infected people becomes a chronic carrier of the disease. Symptoms of infection include decreased appetite, fatigue, fever, and nausea; hepatitis B can lead to liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. Although all Canadian children receive a three-dose immunization shortly after birth, many adults have not taken the vaccine series. The Nunavut sexual health strategy aims to increase immunization among adult Nunavummiut.
Pauktuutit, an Inuit women’s association, also has called for more surveillance and research into hepatitis C among the Inuit people. Although incidence of hepatitis C is low in Nunavut, Pauktuutit concerns include lack of education regarding hepatitis C transmission, which can pass from person to person through sharing needles and personal hygiene equipment like toothbrushes and razors. An estimated 242,500 Canadians have hepatitis C, which often causes no symptoms. Approximately 21 percent of hepatitis C-infected people do not know they have the virus.