Just 5 drops of blood could help fight Hep C on remote B.C. reserves

An Indigenous agency hopes a simple new Hepatitis C test, done by a lay person drawing just five drops of blood, will eliminate the high rates of serious liver infection in several remote B.C. communities. 

Carrier Sekani Family Services said its 11 member communities in north-central B.C. have about twice the rate of Hepatitis C as the national average.

The viral liver infection, spread through contaminated blood, can be deadly if left untreated.

The disease can be cured with medication in just 12 weeks, but many people never get treated because they don't know they have Hepatitis C. 

Testing is difficult in communities without health professionals, a medical lab, or transportation for blood biohazards.

But Carrier Sekani Family Services is now changing that.

It's just just unveiled a simple, new test — called dried blood spot testing (DBST) —  at an elders' gathering in Prince George.

Similar to diabetes finger prick 

"It's finally here," said Marilyn Janzen, the agency's program manager for health and wellness. "You don't have to go in to a doctor to get your blood drawn. And there are no issues with transporting blood that's dried, so this test makes it easier for our hard-to-reach communities."

"The more people that can be screened, the better." 

Staff can administer the test after just  two hours of training, so Carrier Sekani addiction workers, mental health counselors, and other lay people are now qualified.

Betsy Trumpener/CBC

The tests they administer are similar to a diabetes blood sugar finger poke, a system that's familiar to many elders.

After the finger tip is pricked with a special lancet, five drops of blood are applied to a special piece of cardboard. The cardboard is then dried, and sent away in an envelope  to be analyzed.

Similar DBST tests were rolled out this year in PEI, Calgary, and northern Ontario.

In those non-Indigenous communities, test results were provided on the spot. But because of confidentiality issues in Carrier Sekani's small communities, their tests will be analyzed off site, with results sent to medical staff in the area.

HIV and syphilis testing next 

Carrier Sekani wellness worker Lydia Thomas was the first to administer the new test, at the elders' gathering.

"They had a lot of questions about it," Thomas said. "They're just curious. They're glad the test is happening. It doesn't hurt them."

Carrier Sekani says DBST testing will eventually expand, so that people can also be screened for HIV and syphilis.