Hepatitis C

Many New Zealanders have hepatitis C and don’t know it. New direct-acting antiviral drug therapies are a major advancement in the treatment of hepatitis C, with cure rates of more than 90% with 12 weeks treatment.

Summary

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease which causes inflammation of the liver. There are more than 50,000 people in New Zealand with the hepatitis C virus, although it is estimated only half are currently diagnosed.

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, undertake treatment to cure the disease, and take steps to ensure that they do not transmit it to someone else.

If left unchecked, 20–25% of infected individuals will develop cirrhosis of the liver, 3–5% of whom will develop liver cancer each year. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation in New Zealand. Of the infected population, 50–60% remain undiagnosed and unaware of the risks associated with the disease.

Who is at increased risk of hepatitis C?

People who are at increased risk of the hepatitis C virus include those who have:

  • ever injected drugs
  • ever received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
  • had a blood transfusion before 1992
  • ever lived or received medical treatment in a high risk country
  • ever been in prison
  • been born to a mother living with hepatitis C.

How many people have hepatitis C?

There are an estimated 50,000 people in New Zealand with the hepatitis C virus, with approximately 1000 new cases each year.

Worldwide, about 200 million people have been infected with hepatitis C.


Related websites

Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand
A charitable trust focused on education and research into viral hepatitis, and early detection and long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis B and C.

Needle Exchange Programme
A health education and health promotion service for people who inject drugs.

NHS Choices
Information from the UK National Health Service.

Symptoms

If you have hepatitis C, you may have:

  • unusual tiredness or fatigue
  • joint pain
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • abdominal pain.

Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. A blood test will confirm whether or not you have hepatitis C. Talk to your GP about the test.

Treatment

From 1 July 2016, the following hepatitis C treatments will be fully funded (with some with access criteria):

  • Harvoni and Viekira Pak for hepatitis C infection.

This announcement is a major advancement in the treatment of hepatitis C, with cure rates of more than 90% with 12 weeks treatment.

Refer to the PHARMAC website for information about eligibility and access to funded treatment. This includes information for people with hepatitis C and prescribers:

Prevention

Hepatitis C is spread mainly through contact with the blood of an infected person.

In New Zealand, the infection is mostly spread through sharing injecting drug-use equipment (eg, needles, syringes, filters). For more information, visit the Needle Exchange Programme.

Hepatitis C can also be passed on through:

  • a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
  • a blood transfusion before 1992
  • living in or receving medical treatment in a high risk country
  • been born to a mother living with hepatitis C.

Living with

If you have hepatitis C or are a chronic carrier:

  • don’t share drug needles or other injecting gear
  • don’t donate blood
  • don’t share toothbrushes or razors
  • ask your doctor about:
    • the risk of alcohol harming your liver
    • infection risks during pregnancy and birth
    • treatment options
    • hepatitis A and hepatitis B immunisations.

One-off payment

If you were infected with hepatitis C from blood or blood products received through the New Zealand Blood Supply before 27 July 1992, you may be eligible for a one-off payment.

Contact ACC on 0800 689 001 and ask about the one-off payment for hepatitis C. Or go to Hepatitis C one-off payment to find out more.

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