‘Time for Action’
Anyone who may think they are at risk of or are living with Hepatitis B and C across the Far West are being encouraged during NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week (27 July to 2 August) to take action to help them live with the disease.
This year’s Hepatitis Awareness Week theme is ‘Time for Action’ and the Health Service is urging people to take action on viral hepatitis in three key areas – get tested, have a liver check and ask about treatment.
Georgiana Simpson, Co-ordinator Blood Borne Virus Prevention, HIV and Related Programs, said almost half a million (500,000) Australians are living with hepatitis B or C, but more than 2 in 5 people with hepatitis B and up to 1 in 6 people with hepatitis C are undiagnosed.
“Increasing rates of hepatitis C (HCV) testing and monitoring HCV and hepatitis B, (HBV) is a priority for Far West and Western NSW LHDs,” said Georgiana.
“With recent advancements in treatment, new options on the horizon and established local specialist services with increased access to expert equipment, a cure is now possible for the overwhelming majority of people living with hepatitis C,” she said.
“This is also a perfect time for people living with chronic hepatitis B to consider their liver health and options for treatment as well. While there is no cure for hepatitis B, effective treatments are available to prevent progression to liver cancer.”
People in high risk categories should get tested for hepatitis C and/or hepatitis B. This includes:
- People who have ever injected drugs;
- People who have been in prison;
- People born in China/Hong Kong, Egypt, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia, Italy or other countries with high prevalence of viral hepatitis;
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.
Georgiana said liver checks are also important.
“A thousand Australians die unnecessarily each year of hepatitis-related liver disease. This is a shocking statistic,” she said.
Approximately 250,000 Australians with hepatitis B or hepatitis C are already in the liver danger zone – making them more likely to progress to serious liver disease, unless they access, sooner rather than later, adequate management and/or treatment.
“People in the liver danger zone are at risk of serious liver disease, including: liver cirrhosis; liver cancer and liver failure. The first step, especially for people who are aged 40 years old or over and living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C, is an important one to take,” said Georgiana.
“Having a regular liver check will tell you what’s happening with your liver, so you can make informed decisions about how to manage your health, including how to help prevent the worst consequences of viral hepatitis.”
Treatment for hepatitis is changing, with effective treatments for hepatitis B already available meaning that most people can now manage the hepatitis B virus if they actively monitor their health and, where necessary, go on treatment.
While new hepatitis C treatments are not yet widely available in Australia, they will be in the next few years, and with the new direct acting antiviral therapies very high success rates for achieving a cure for hepatitis C.
People are encouraged to ask your doctor about treatment now to ensure you are in the best position to take advantage of these new drugs – which are faster (for many people taken for as little as 12 weeks), don’t require injections, are much easier to take, have minimal side-effects and have much higher cure rates – when they do become available
However, prevent is always better than treatment or cure.
“The single most important and single most effective way to prevent new hepatitis C transmissions is not sharing equipment used to inject drugs,” said Georgiana.
“Avoiding shared equipment for body piercing, home tattooing and not practicing blood kinship ceremonies are important in prevention as blood-to-blood contact is possible in these situations.”
With National HCV and HBV rates estimated at 230 000 and 207 000 respectively the HIV and Related Programs Unit, Population Health for Far West and Western NSW LHDs are committed to reducing the incidence, prevalence, social impact and medical complications of hepatitis infection within our communities and have dedicated specialist staff delivering liver clinical services in the regional cities of Broken Hill, Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo with outreach to more isolated areas.
The Broken Hill Health Service operates a Liver Clinic Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5pm. For more information about this confidential clinic call 08 8080 1556.