Hepatitis Week: Time to Look After Your Liver – NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week – July 21-28Northern Rivers residents living with hepatitis C are being urged to consider their treatment options for an illness that can cause cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. In addition, many people may not know they are infected with hepatitis C virus because symptoms rarely occur at the time of contracting the disease.
These are the key messages for NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week, with the latest estimates showing more than 226,000 people in Australia are living with chronic hepatitis C and 170,000 people with chronic hepatitis B.
“Northern NSW has the third highest notification rate of hepatitis C in NSW,” said Jenny Heslop, Manager of HIV & Related Programs (HARP).
“New and effective treatments are available across many centres on the North Coast, but treatment uptake rates are very low. Hepatitis C can be treated, and in many cases cured, allowing people to live healthy, virus free lives.
“Public health strategies such as blood donor screening, Hep B vaccinations, Health Promotion programs and the well utilised Needle Syringe Program have contributed to significantly minimising the rates of transmission. But we still have a long way to go to get on top of this issue”, Ms Heslop added.
“We urge all people who inject drugs to get tested at least annually and to access the free and confidential services provided by the Needle and Syringe Program to reduce the risk of transmission of Hepatitis B, C and other blood borne viruses such as HIV.
“During Hepatitis Week awareness raising and Health Promotion activities are taking place around NSW to help minimise the stigma and discrimination that prevents people from accessing information and treatment services.
“We thank Hepatitis NSW for their ongoing support to our local communities, particularly the annual Community Grants Program.”
The ongoing impacts of chronic hepatitis C are serious, with about 20 per cent of patients developing cirrhosis within 10 to 20 years of the onset of infection. Liver failure from chronic Hepatitis C is one of the most common reasons for liver transplants.
“A cure is now possible for the overwhelming majority of people with hepatitis C,” said Mr Stuart Loveday, CEO, Hepatitis NSW, who will officially open the new Lismore Liver Clinic this week.
“With the listing of new treatments on the PBS in April, almost all people in Australia living with hepatitis C have cure rates of around 75 per cent to 80 per cent.
“Now is the right time for people who may have been living with hepatitis C for years, or even decades, to visit their doctor to get a referral to have their liver health assessed. This will help them decide whether they should go onto treatment sooner rather than later.
“Hepatitis NSW encourages people from across the Northern NSW LHD to access the services that are available at the new Lismore Liver Clinic to help treat hepatitis C and B.”
A Patient’s Story
Digby Hildreth is a local journalist and self-described former injecting drug user:
“I thought I was the one that got away, when all my using companions from the 70s became ill with hepatitis C. It was only when two of them died from liver failure that I decided to get tested. Sure enough, I had the virus – and had it for more than 30 years.
“Mine is a particularly difficult form to treat and I was unable to clear the virus after two treatment programs. Now it has followed a not-uncommon course and developed into liver cancer.
I regret not having a check-up earlier. I may have been able to halt the disease’s progress.”
Commented Jenny Heslop, “Unfortunately Digby’s story is only one of many we hear and see at the Liver clinic…if only Harm Reduction Services such as Needle & Syringe Programs were available in the 70s, or that Digby didn’t wait until he had developed symptoms to get tested the results may have been very different today.”