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 high cure rates of more than 90% with 8 weeks treatment for most.

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.

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.

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, the World Health Organization estimates there are 71 million people who 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.

PHARMAC: Hepatitis C funded treatments
Information on new treatments available in New Zealand.

NHS Choices
Information from the UK National Health Service.


Find out more from the Ministry

Hepatitis C – information on work to improve hepatitis C treatment in New Zealand.

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

People most at risk of getting hepatitis C are encouraged to get tested by contacting their GP. 

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.

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:

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 receiving medical treatment in a high risk country
  • been born to a mother 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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