News Release Archive

The Department of Health is launching a lookback program to
notify people who received blood products in the 1980s of their
risk of exposure to the hepatitis C virus.

"Nova Scotia is a leader among Canadian provinces," said Health
Minister Jim Smith. "The lookback program is a proactive,
appropriate and compassionate step to take."

The first stage will be pilot studies at the Queen Elizabeth II
Health Sciences Centre, the IWK-Grace Health Centre and a
regional hospital to see how feasible it is to search computer
and paper records for information on blood products. The pilot
studies, to be conducted this summer, will trace records for
adults from 1984 to 1990 and even further back for children.

About 40 per cent of all blood products in Nova Scotia continue
to be received by patients through the QEII blood transfusion
service, while most children requiring blood products would have
received them during treatment at the IWK-Grace.

Based on the searches this summer, it is expected individual
letters will be mailed out to many blood product recipients this

The outcome of the pilot studies will determine the scope and
feasibility of a provincial lookback program tapping records at
other hospitals.

"The more you know about your personal health, the more informed
decisions you can make," said Dr. Jeff Scott, provincial medical
officer of health and co-ordinator of the lookback program. "We
are giving special attention to children in this campaign as it
is better to identify any potential problems earlier in life."

A toll-free line, 1-800-430-9557, has been set up to answer
questions about the program. The estimated cost for the program
is about $1 million.

The most recent statistics from the Department of Health show
that 763 Nova Scotians tested positive for hepatitis C between
1990 and 1996. It is estimated that between 4,000 and 10,000 Nova
Scotians have hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a communicable disease that is spread most
commonly by sharing needles and syringes used to inject illicit
drugs. It is also spread by sharing drug snorting equipment.

Other risk factors for hepatitis C include a transfusion of blood
or blood product prior to June 1990 when the screening of the
blood supply for hepatitis C began, and an accidental poke with a
used needle and syringe.

Other situations where blood-to-blood contact with an infected
person can occur but where the risk is much lower include:

- Sharing toothbrushes, dental floss, razors, nail files, or
  other items that could have tiny amounts of blood on them.

- Skin-piercing procedures such as tattoos, body-piercing,
  acupuncture or electrolysis if the equipment is not sterile.

Other possible situations with even lower risk include:

- Sexual intercourse.

- An infected mother passing it to her newborn infant.

Prior to the introduction of screening for hepatitis C in 1990,
there was an estimated two per cent to three per cent risk of
exposure to the virus for blood transfusion recipients.


Contact: Lori MacLean
         Department of Health

trp                       June 16, 1997 - 11:20 a.m.