MONTREAL — The number of hepatitis C cases in Canada will increase dramatically in the coming years due mainly to a continuing epidemic among injection drug users, researchers said Wednesday.
There is strong evidence that snorting cocaine and smoking crack cocaine can cause infection, the first national conference on hepatitis C was told.
It's thought that the virus is transmitted by shared straws used in snorting cocaine and sores in the mouth among crack smokers. Heroin users also are at risk. Even those who get tattoos and have multiple sex partners could be at risk, researchers said.
The burden on health care will likely be greater than the toll that AIDS has taken on the system, said Patty Daly, director of communicable disease control at the Vancouver-Richmond health board.
``Hepatitis C is far more common than HIV, it's far more easily transmitted through injection drug use, so we're going to see far greater numbers of cases,'' she said.
``I think hepatitis C will have a bigger impact on our health system overall.''
Robert Remis of the University of Toronto said about 240,000 Canadians now have hepatitis C, with 3,000 to 8,000 new infections annually, and deaths in the same order of magnitude.