April 23, 2012

Hunter's hidden Hepatitis C epidemic


DISCRIMINATION: Many myths persist about hepatitis C.


24 Apr, 2012 04:00 AM

HEPATITIS C is a hidden epidemic, with one in 100 Hunter residents infected but only a fraction of sufferers seeking treatment, a leading advocacy organisation says.

Hepatitis NSW chief executive Stuart Loveday said discrimination prevented many sufferers from seeking treatment.

Myths persisted about how the virus was contracted, with people believing sharing utensils, laundry, a swimming pool or toilet seat with an infected person put others at risk.

Hepatitis C is a virus contracted through blood to blood contact, usually from sharing needles when injecting drugs, or sharing tattoo and piercing equipment.

It affects the liver, can lead to liver disease or cancer, and is the leading cause of liver transplant.

Hepatitis NSW said that in the Hunter New England Health area, about 9600 people were living with hepatitis C and about 75 per cent of those would develop a chronic illness.

Only 2 per cent to 3 per cent of sufferers nationally were receiving treatment.

Symptoms could delay in presenting, in some cases up to 15 years after infection.

Those infected through blood transfusions, before screening of blood supply was introduced in 1990, were living with the virus.

Mr Loveday said drug therapies were progressing.

Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital was among the leading treatment centres.

But the latest phase of improved medication was about five years away.

For information phone 1800 803 990 or go to hep.org.au.


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