Hepatitis C, a relatively new disease in the North, is becoming a bigger problem in that part of Canada than HIV or tuberculosis, the Northwest Territories' chief medical officer said during a national conference in Yellowknife.

Dr. Andre Corriveau told CBC News on Monday he hopes to raise awareness about hepatitis C to curb its spread in the territory.

About 300 N.W.T. residents have been diagnosed with the disease - one of the highest infection rates in Canada - and about 30 new cases are found every year. The infection numbers are evenly split between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Corriveau said people in the territory are probably tested more often than residents of other jurisdictions, which could account for the seemingly high numbers.

But he cited other possible reasons.

"We have technology, and we have social issues," he said. "And that with resource development and other cyclical trends, there's probably more IV drug use that's going on than in the past. And in those communities, the virus will spread very quickly."

Corriveau spoke on the first day of the fourth national Aboriginal Hepatitis C conference, hosted by the Akaitcho Territory Government. Health-care professionals and community members from across Canada are meeting through Wednesday to discuss the blood-borne viral disease.

While hepatitis C can cause liver damage or cancer, it is often not detected in patients for years - as was the case for Ruth Mercredi, who said she only found out after a blood test 10 years ago.

"I was one of those people that I probably could have lived a long time and not even know I had that disease," Mercredi said during the conference. "I had no symptoms, whatsoever."

Corriveau said he also wants to make sure it's easy for people in the territory to get tested for hepatitis C.