Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that affects your liver and can cause liver disease and liver cancer. There is highly effective treatment for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that causes inflammation of the liver. Many New Zealanders have hepatitis C and don't know it.
Hepatitis C can remain asymptomatic (show no symptoms) for decades. If diagnosed early, a person is able to make lifestyle changes that may help delay the onset of serious complications, or undertake treatment to cure the disease.
It is estimated approximately 35 to 40 percent of New Zealanders with chronic hepatitis C are undiagnosed because of a lack of awareness of previous risk of exposure and lack of symptoms. If left unchecked, up to 20–25% of infected individuals will develop cirrhosis of the liver. Without successful treatment, 2–5% of those with cirrhosis will progress to life-threatening liver cancer or liver failure 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 with hepatitis C.
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.
Find out more from the Ministry
Hepatitis C – information on work to improve hepatitis C treatment in New Zealand.
Hepatitis C often has no symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.
A blood test will confirm whether or not you have hepatitis C. Talk to your doctor about the test. Initial exposure to the hepatitis C virus can be confirmed by a point-of-care test.
When symptoms do occur, they can be mistaken for another illness. Symptoms may include:
- unusual tiredness
- joint pain
- loss of appetite
- nausea (feeling sick)
- abdominal pain.
People most at risk of getting hepatitis C are encouraged to get tested by contacting their doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent or limit damage to your liver, as well as help ensure the infection is not passed on to other people. In Auckland and Northland, over 60 pharmacies provide testing and treatment without needing a prescription. This is a free service for people eligible for funded health care in New Zealand.
Hepatitis C tests may also be available from community based health professionals in places other than in general practice or hospital. See details about these services in each DHB region.
From 1 February 2019 PHARMAC commenced funding a new treatment for people with hepatitis C. This treatment is a potential cure for people with chronic hepatitis C infection regardless of the type or genotype.
This treatment (known as Maviret) has fewer side effects and fewer interactions with other medicines than previously funded treatments and is a simpler treatment – for most this may just be a once-daily dose for a minimum of 8 weeks.
Maviret replaces the previous Viekira Pak and Viekira Pak-RBV treatments that worked only for some types of hepatitis C.
All prescribers, including general practitioners, can prescribe funded Maviret for eligible people. In Auckland and Northland, pharmacists working in selected community pharmacies can also prescribe funded Maviret for eligible people.
Refer to the PHARMAC website for more information about the new hepatitis C funded treatment. This includes information for people with hepatitis C, for prescribers and for pharmacists:
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:
- having a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
- getting a blood transfusion before 1992
- living in or receiving medical treatment in a high risk country
- being born to a mother with hepatitis C.
If you have hepatitis C or are a chronic carrier then please:
- 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.