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World Hepatitis Day: Get tested, get cured

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Get tested, get cured – this is the message Southern DHB will be promoting this year as part of World Hepatitis Day.

World Hepatitis Day takes place every year on 28 July to raise awareness of viral Hepatitis and the impact it has worldwide. The theme this year is ‘Eliminate Hepatitis – find the missing millions’.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection which causes inflammation of the liver. It affects over 50,000 New Zealanders, although it's estimated only half are currently diagnosed. People who have Hepatitis C, may have symptoms such as unusual tiredness or fatigue, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal pain. However, many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms.

Southern DHB Clinical Nurse Specialist, Gastroenterology, Margaret Fraser says Hepatitis C is curable, treatment is free, and getting yourself cured contributes to worldwide eradication. “If you have symptoms or have ever been exposed to blood to blood contamination (tattoos, piercings, injecting drugs, lived in or had medical treatment in endemic countries, or lived with someone who has had hepatitis C, see your doctor.”

Hepatitis C can remain asymptomatic for decades. If diagnosed early, a person is able to make lifestyle changes that may help delay the onset of serious complications and undertake treatment to cure the disease.

“It’s thought these people are the ‘working well’, aged between 40 and 65 years, who see their GP infrequently (if ever),” says Margaret.

“They’re at risk of having developed significant and advanced liver disease before being diagnosed with Hepatitis C as symptoms can be vague.  Once liver disease has developed, people are at risk of developing liver cancer or failure.”

Fully funded treatment for Hepatitis C is now available. The direct-acting antiviral drug Maviret is a major advancement in the treatment of Hepatitis C, with high cure rates of more than 99% with eight weeks treatment for most. The only criteria to qualify for treatment is diagnosis of Hepatitis C infection. 

“Affected individuals also no longer require a liver biopsy before treatment to check the overall health of the liver. Instead they have a Fibroscan, a non-invasive and simple test (similar to an ultrasound) that takes approximately five minutes,” says Margaret.

GP’s are ideally placed to screen for Hepatitis C and are now able to treat it in the community.

It is recommended you get tested if you answer yes to one or more points below:

  • If you have ever had a raised liver function blood test
  • Have received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
  • Lived or received medical attention in a high-risk country (South East Asia, China, Eastern Europe (including Russia), or the Middle East
  • Had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to 1992
  • Have ever been in prison
  • Have injected drugs (even if only once)
  • Were born to a mother living with hepatitis C.

“Our message is that testing saves lives – if you’re at risk of Hepatitis C talk to your doctor about getting tested,” says Margaret.

Margaret Fraser

Pictured: Margaret Fraser

For more information about Hepatitis C go to:  https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/hepatitis-c