Hepatitis C update
Hepatitis C infection is a significant public health issue. More than 230,000 Australians live with the virus, and there are attempts to increase the detection of those affected, and to offer them treatment. I have recently been involved (with NSW Health, The RACGP* and ASHAM**) in providing information to GPs to encourage participation in this issue.
Chronic Hepatitis C is contagious; it also results in reduced health. It can cause mild symptoms such as tiredness and discomfort all the way through to cirrhosis and even liver cancer. The longer you have it, the more it can affect your liver.
The good news is that there is an excellent cure rate with medications that are now available. The treatment is much better tolerated than past treatments that involved drugs such as interferon. GPs are being encouraged to prescribe the new hepatitis C treatment as well; specialists still need to treat people who are more unwell or have other medical issues.
People who might have been exposed to Hepatitis C are encouraged to see their doctor for assessment and blood tests. Risk factors include a history of intravenous drug use, having been in custody, having had tattoos or body piercings, or a blood transfusion before 1990. Migrants from certain countries – such as Egypt, Pakistan, Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia – also have a higher risk. Your GP might recommend testing for hepatitis C if you are found to have abnormal liver function tests.
The treatment for Hepatitis C is daily tablets for several weeks. Before treatment, check-ups, scans and blood tests are required so the right treatment can be determined.
If more people are tested, and offered treatment, we might even see the end of this chronic infection in Australia.
*RACGP – Royal Australian College of general practitioners
**ASHM – Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine
Dr Marie Healy is a GP with interests in aged and chronic care and health promotion. This advice is general in nature; please see your GP for specific health advice regarding your individual circumstances.