Port Alberni’s West Coast General Hospital has been chosen to run a pilot project for routine HIV testing of anyone admitted to the hospital.
West Coast General will also be the only hospital on Vancouver Island to routinely test for Hepatitis C, Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Hasselback said.
“Early diagnosis and treatment are important aspects of reducing new HIV infections on Vancouver Island,” Hasselback said.
All patients admitted to WCGH will be offered an HIV test as part of their admissions bloodwork.
One in four people in Canada living with HIV are unaware of their infection, he noted. Advances in medication in recent years mean people who are diagnosed early can still live long, healthy lives, Hasselback said.
It is estimated more than half of new HIV infections occur via transmission from individuals who don’t know they are infected. In B.C., one in six people have advanced HIV disease at the time of diagnosis.
Port Alberni was chosen for the pilot program because they got their paperwork and training completed first, Hasselback said.
“Because they are the first they have been able to accomplish this. We know what our testing rates are on the Island and if we look at the rates, Central Vancouver Island has the lowest of testing rates.
“We’re trying hard to improve our testing opportunities to come in alignment with provincial guidelines.”
The process to run the HIV pilot program began last January.
West Coast General was well placed to set up the HIV pilot program after dealing with an outbreak of tuberculosis several years ago, Hasselback said.
“I think one of the reasons WCGH was in a better position was they were quite familiar with things like TB,” he said.
While the TB outbreak was eventually controlled, Hep C is a growing problem in the Central Island, he said.
Hepatitis C or “Hep C” for short is a blood-borne disease caused by a virus that infects the liver. Many people don’t know they have Hep C until they already have liver damage.
In 2013 the Central Island saw approximately 12 cases of HIV diagnosed, and 141 cases of Hep C.