NSW HEPATITIS INFOLINE

Media Release: Great achievements after five years of hepatitis C elimination – but more work needed

Media Release: Great achievements after five years of hepatitis C elimination – but more work needed

Media Release: Great achievements after five years of hepatitis C elimination – but more work neededMonday March 1st marks the five-year anniversary of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing of new, affordable, highly effective treatments for hepatitis C. Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) that cure hepatitis C were made broadly available to all eligible Australians.

With the groundbreaking hep C treatment, we are closer to our goals

Steven Drew, Hepatitis NSW CEO, said, “Thanks to those groundbreaking medications, elimination of hepatitis C has become an achievable goal, in line with Australian and NSW Government commitments. We are within reach of achieving elimination of hep C by 2030.”

Mr Drew continued, “However, elimination will require the ongoing combined efforts of government, the health sector, and community to be fully realised.”

So far, an estimated 30,200 people in New South Wales have started treatment for, and been cured of, hepatitis C since 2016. This represents a saving to the NSW Health Care System of over $93.6m.

Of treatment initiations since March 2016, 1,514 were accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the Closing the Gap scheme. Many more Indigenous Australians have accessed treatment through medical specialists, GPs, and health service providers outside of the Closing the Gap scheme.

The hep C DAA medications, which have a cure rate of 95 per cent, can be prescribed by medical specialists, general practitioners, and nurse practitioners. Cure is achieved within 8 or 12 weeks, with minimal or no side-effects. It is important that people are tested and treated; while hepatitis C initially has almost no symptoms, if left untreated it can ultimately result in significant liver disease and possibly death.

The new hep C treatments have been improved

Susan Hawkeswood lived with hepatitis C for over twenty years before being diagnosed with the virus in the early 2010s. “Interferon was the only treatment available then, it was not very effective and had many unpleasant, often debilitating, side-effects and I chose not to use it.”

“Fortunately, the new direct acting antivirals came along before my liver was damaged by the virus. I had no side effects from the DAA treatment and was cured in just three months,” said Susan. “While living with hepatitis C I often felt exhausted, but with cure my energy has returned.”

It is essential to continue promoting these groundbreaking cures

Mr Drew said, “While these many successes are a great achievement for our community, there are still tens of thousands across the state that are yet to seek treatment and cure, and treatment uptake is now declining.”

“It is essential to reinvigorate promotion of these ground-breaking cures to a broad audience, and to ensure that all people in New South Wales can live their best life, free from hepatitis C,” said Mr Drew. “With that in mind, it is very concerning that new legislation being considered and supported by both the NSW Government and Opposition could significantly undermine those efforts.”

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

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Media Release: NSW’s Mandatory Disease Testing Bill ill-conceived and flawed

Media Release: NSW’s Mandatory Disease Testing Bill ill-conceived and flawedSpeaking at a NSW Legislative Committee Inquiry into the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020, on Thursday 11 February, Hepatitis NSW restated our concerns related to this ill-conceived and flawed legislation.

Hepatitis NSW CEO Steven Drew said, “Hepatitis NSW absolutely supports frontline health and emergency services workers. We collaborate with many of them every day through our work. They should not be subjected to unnecessary threats or risk as they go about their job and it is abhorrent that attacks do occur that create health related stress and concern.”

“Frontline workers must be informed and educated in advance, and reassured by experts that, based on science and evidence, the likelihood of the transmission of a blood-borne virus as the result of spitting or skin contact with blood is non-existent,” said Mr Drew. On this basis, the inclusion of saliva within the definition of ‘body fluids’ which can be used to seek a mandatory testing order in the Bill is redundant and raises questions as to the real purpose of this legislation.

“We are part of a concerted effort by the community, government, and health sectors to eliminate both hepatitis B and hepatitis C in New South Wales by 2028,” said Mr Drew. “Efforts to date have resulted in the hard won ongoing decline in prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both viruses now present a numerically small and ever diminishing health risk in NSW.”

“There is an effective cure for hepatitis C and a vaccination for hepatitis B. This means the fear and worry, which this legislation validates, is unwarranted and not justifiable. Instead, rather than entrench stigma and discrimination, we need scientific, evidence-based information and education to reduce stress and anxiety for frontline workers who are at risk of incidents of exposure. This reflects New South Wales world leading approach and response to public health issues.”

This Bill will make it harder to reach the very people we must still reach to make good on elimination.

Since 2000, a comprehensive hepatitis B vaccination program in NSW means an entire generation of young people are not at, and pose no risk of, infection. Additionally, frontline workers should already be vaccinated against hepatitis B to mitigate occupational health and safety risks of blood borne virus transmission.

Furthermore, an effective cure for hepatitis C is universally available through the PBS, including for young people aged 12 and above. That this Bill applies to young people aged 14 years and above is as unjustifiable as it is abhorrent.

“The importance of protecting and promoting the health, well-being, and mental health of staff, employees, workers and indeed the public is something we all agree on. Workplaces have an obligation to do everything possible to protect staff from injury and harm while carrying out their duties. Although the rationale for this Bill is to protect and promote the health and well-being of frontline workers we already, in fact, have the tools to do so.”

The current system already places the health and safety of the worker at the centre of risk assessment and prevention. It prioritises evidence-based assessment, treatment, and care. In the event of an incident, focus should always be placed on access to immediate assessment of risk by a qualified health practitioner, counselling, and support to the person. This support would see the commencement of any recommended aftercare, including post-exposure prophylaxis.

Mr Drew said, “Requiring an alleged assailant to undertake a blood test, potentially without consent and under duress, does not provide peace of mind. It would be an unnecessary and fallible substitute for the immediate clinical assessment of the affected worker by an expert and appropriate care protocols.”

It is important to state clearly and unambiguously that enacting this Bill will disproportionately and adversely impact an already disadvantaged population, notably street present and marginalised people – specifically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as people who have substance dependence, gender identity, and mental health issues.

“The Bill will effectively offer no increased peace of mind to frontline workers,” said Mr Drew, “but would instead expose predominantly marginalised individuals to unnecessary and invasive blood testing, potentially inflaming violent behaviour and increasing the risk of injury to both the alleged assailant and the frontline worker.”

  • Download our submission>>> CLICK HERE
  • Read other submissions – NSW Parliament site>>> CLICK HERE

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

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Hepatitis NSW Submission: Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020

Mandatory Disease Testing a futile and stigmatising exerciseHepatitis NSW has provided a submission on the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 currently being considered by the State Government, and will shortly be attending a committee hearing at NSW Parliament House. Hepatitis NSW has opposed mandatory disease testing since it was first considered following recommendations arising in the 2017 NSW Legislative Assembly Committee on Law and Safety Report. Our position remains unchanged.

Download our submission>>> CLICK HERE

The proposed bill won’t address risk to frontline workers

We strongly believe that the wellbeing and safety of frontline workers in NSW is vitally important. In terms of wellbeing and safety, we are referring not just to the physical but also to mental and emotional wellbeing. Our frontline workers deserve the community’s respect and should not be subject to acts of intimidation, threats or violence in any form. They must be protected as much as is reasonably possible in a high-level occupational risk environment.

In providing that protection, it is essential that the strategies designed and used are scientifically informed, evidence-based and effective in meeting the aim; that they are fit for purpose. Where the issue being addressed is a health issue, the response must be health based, not based on criminalising affected people.

A health informed and based response provides a holistic, wraparound approach that draws on appropriate health promotion, medical support, interventions and care to the primarily affected person. Force and criminalisation against a third party is punitive and does not provide sanctuary for a victim.

This Bill is a blunt instrument that is wholly incapable of achieving anything other than a perpetuation of fear, loathing, discrimination and privileging that is inconsistent with the inclusive, fair and responsible society and behaviour we would all desire. It will not address the stress and concerns of frontline workers around the exceedingly low risk of infection. Indeed, greater results will be achieved through supporting them with accurate information about risks, addressing their concerns, and providing professional wellbeing, support and counselling.

We do not support mandatory testing

Mandatory testing is not in line with the Australian National HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C Testing Policies, or supported by global health bodies. The key principles guiding blood borne virus (BBV) testing in Australia are that testing is conducted ethically, is voluntary and performed with the informed consent of the person being tested.

Mandatory testing does not meet these principles. Mandatory testing laws are not supported by global health bodies such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organization on the basis that it breaches human rights, compromises public health initiatives and other efforts to eliminate HIV and other BBV transmission.

  • Download our submission>>> CLICK HERE
  • Read other submissions – NSW Parliament site>>> CLICK HERE

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

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Professor Bob Batey wins 2020 Hepatitis NSW Cheryl Burman Award

Professor Bob Batey wins 2020 Hepatitis NSW Cheryl Burman AwardHepatitis NSW is delighted to announce that Professor Robert (Bob) Batey is the 2020 winner of our Annual Cheryl Burman Award, which acknowledges outstanding work or achievements by an individual or team in NSW within the viral hepatitis sector.

Hepatitis NSW CEO Steven Drew said, “The Cheryl Burman Award this year recognises Professor Batey’s distinguished career of service to communities affected by viral hepatitis through research, clinical excellence, prioritising patient needs and advocacy.”

Professor Batey trained at Sydney Hospital, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and the Royal Free Hospital in London. This training was the start of a fifty years plus career which has included internal medicine, gastroenterology, hepatology, and substance dependency medicine. He has held numerous prominent positions within the hepatology sector, providing clinical guidance and expertise in frontline clinical roles as well as policy development and leadership positions at a state and national level.

Mr Drew said, “As an advocate for the affected hepatitis C community, Professor Batey was a member of the group of clinicians who lobbied the Federal Government to ensure equitable access to treatment.” The first subsidised treatment for hepatitis C – Interferon – was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in 1994 and was placed under the management of Professor Batey and the National Interferon Database.

“Collaborating with Hepatitis NSW in 1995, he devoted many hours and much energy to provide education to the public, dispelling myths and reducing stigma and discrimination experienced by the affected community,” said Mr Drew.

He was the first Visiting Medical Officer to provide hepatitis C treatment and care services in NSW custodial settings, treating his first patient in 1996.

Professor Batey visited many regional and rural locations within NSW to assist in the education of staff, leading to the development and commencement in hepatitis C treatment and care services in places such as Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Port Macquarie, and Lismore. He has also supported the southern part of the state, providing Visiting Medical Officer clinics to Wagga Wagga, Albury, and Nowra.

In 2002, Professor Batey was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for services to Medicine in the field of hepatitis C, medical education, and research.

Mr Drew said, “Professor Bob Batey has always put the needs of the patient and the affected community as the priority, to ensure their needs are not only heard but addressed.”

“The outstanding work being done by individuals across NSW to improve health outcomes for people living with and affected by hepatitis B and hepatitis C is inspiring,” said Mr Drew. “This is demonstrated by the calibre of the of our other finalists, Sinead Sheils and Bill Lenane.”

Sinead Sheils was nominated for her substantial contribution to improving the quality of life of people living with viral hepatitis. Her clinical approach has ensured great outcomes for all stakeholders, including clients. As a Hepatology Nurse Practitioner at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Ms Sheils has built workforce capacity and initiated evidence-based best practice.

Bill Lenane was nominated for his long standing and ongoing commitment, and efforts in community advocacy and representation. As an Illawarra based volunteer with lived experience of hepatitis C, Mr Lenane has worked to increase the profile and voice of people in that region with lived experience of hepatitis C.

Mr Drew said, “Hepatitis NSW congratulates Bob, as well as finalists Sinead and Bill, and thanks all nominees for this year’s award. Once again, all nominees for this year’s award demonstrated strong leadership and initiative in the sector.”

Published 26 November, 2020

For a list of previous Chery Burman Award Recipients>>>CLICK HERE

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Hep C Diagnosis & Stigma: I Was My Own Worst Enemy

Peta, one of our Community Peer Workers, has written a guest blog post about her experience of living with and being cured of, hepatitis C.

It is likely that I had hep C for three or four years before I was diagnosed with it at the age of 21. I didn’t know much about the virus then, just that it was something you got from sharing needles and that there was a lot of stigma around it.

I had been drug-free for almost two years when I heard that my ex-partner had tested positive for hep C. This meant, I realised with a knot tightening in the pit of my stomach, that I was very likely positive too. However, I didn’t get tested right away.

The stigma attached to hep C made dealing with potential diagnosis hard to cope with

I had grown up in a conservative family; I was a “good girl from a good family”. My earlier drug use had affected my relationships with my family and friends, and I thought I knew how my family would take the news that I had hep C. In my mind, I believed they would assume I was using drugs again. The stigma attached to the virus – not just in the wider community but also within myself – made dealing with my potential diagnosis quite intimidating and extremely hard to cope with.

Instead of facing the situation head on I started drinking. I pretended nothing was wrong. My drinking got heavier and more out of hand.

Deep down, I knew I had the virus; and I also knew I was probably making myself sicker by drinking as heavily as I was. I now had a serious mental health issue and a whole new dependency to deal with. It was making me twice as sick because of my undiagnosed hep C.

I was so terrified of facing my situation

Part of me knew I had to do something, so I started going to doctors. I was so terrified of facing my situation, and the stigma surrounding it, that every time I got tested, I pretended it wasn’t happening and avoided the results.

In total I had about six different tests from six different doctors… and each time I refused to pick up the results! This went on for maybe six months to a year, and all the while I kept drinking more and more.

Finally, I broke. Maybe it was the various doctors’ surgeries constantly ringing me to come in to get my results. Maybe I was coming to the realisation that I couldn’t live as an alcoholic anymore. I knew I was going to die slowly and painfully if I didn’t face up to the situation.

Starting treatment turned my life around

In 2001, I finally got tested and was diagnosed with hep C.

Because of public and personal stigma around the virus, not only did I delay my treatment, I put unnecessary stress on my liver, and I had estranged my family and friends even further. Plus, I had another dependency to deal with.

I started interferon treatment for hep C in 2002.

Interferon was a tough treatment to complete. The side effects were intense! I was surprised how supportive my family and friends were. They were proud of me for facing up to my situation and admired the strength it took to complete the treatment.

I was my own worst enemy in my journey with hep C

Now, looking back, I realise how much time I wasted and how much stress I put myself through. The virus may have affected my body, but the stigma I had attached to it created mental health issues that took years to heal and caused a dependency that I might have avoided had I sought help straightaway.

The stigma hurt me far more than the virus did. For a while, I had been my own worst enemy. But I’m now 18 years sober, I have a little boy and a happy healthy relationship with my partner and my family. To anyone who thinks they might have hep C, I’d say get tested right away. The treatments for hep C these days are amazing – effective, discreet and easy… don’t let stigma get in the way of getting cured.

Learn more about hep C by getting in contact with our Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990,
or download one of our free online resources.

Published 2 September, 2020

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Hep C Treatment has Changed

Hep C Treatment has Changed Hep C testing and treatment is now super simple, super safe, super manageable and super-effective. Unfortunately, some people aren’t getting treated because they are running on old information about the previous interferon/ribavirin treatments. However, things got better a few years ago with the introduction of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs). Hep C treatment has changed for the better. People can be treated at local health services, and most don’t need to go to the Liver Clinic.

Clearing the Path aims to spread awareness about hep C treatments and cure

These are the positive messages of this year’s hepatitis C campaign, Clearing the Path. The campaign is aimed at not only raising awareness of DAA treatments and cure but dispelling stubborn myths that persist from the days of interferon. DAAs have a very high cure rate – over 95% – with minimal, if any, side-effects for most people. Taken as daily doses of pills, the new treatments take just 8 or 12 weeks.

Thousands of people in NSW have already been treated and cured since March 2016, but many more living with hep C are yet to seek treatment. We conducted research which showed that lack of information or misconceptions were the main reasons people with hep C hadn’t come forward to be treated. The campaign will deliver myth-busting, correct information in a positive, uplifting format and get the conversation about treatment started.

What is hep C and who is at risk?

Hepatitis C is a virus that is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and can, over time, damage a person’s liver – leading to fibrosis, liver cirrhosis, and even liver cancer.

Someone could be at risk of hep C if they have ever had blood-to-blood contact. Sharing injecting equipment or getting home tattoos or home piercings are the most common means of transmission.

Many people do not know they are living with hep C

Tens of thousands of people in NSW are living with hep C, but many do not know they have the virus. Some people do not have symptoms. Having a blood test is the only way to know if someone is living with the virus.

Being cured of hep C can improve quality of life. Many people who have finished their course of treatment report feeling greater levels of energy and alertness.

There has never been a better time to get tested and start hep C treatment

NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week started on Monday 27 July, with World Hepatitis Day on Tuesday 28 July. During that week and into August, Hepatitis NSW with NUAA will be rolling out the bright, eye-catching artwork – wall posters, street pole posters, pull up banners, and pubs and clubs washroom advertising – throughout New South Wales. The messaging focuses on the availability and effectiveness of new hep C treatments.

There has never been a better time to start hep C treatment and be cured of the virus. Treatment has changed for the better, and that’s no fake news.

For more information on this campaign, please email: Vanessavpollett@hep.org.au
To find out more on hep C and cure, call the Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990 or visit the campaign website>>> hepc.org.au

Published 3 August, 2020

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Challenges… I’ve had more than a few!

Challenges… I’ve had more than a fewJarra*, one of our Community Peer Workers, has written a guest blog post about her experience of living with and being cured of, hepatitis C.
(*Not her real name.)

During my late teens, everyone I knew was learning they were hep C positive. It felt inevitable to me that I would also get the virus and, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with it too. At first I didn’t notice it affecting me, and I wasn’t too worried about long term effects either; those were at least twenty years away… a lifetime.
A few years later I watched my partner go through interferon treatment. This was intense and put me off the idea of hep C treatment for myself.

I didn’t want to live but I didn’t want to die either

By the time new, effective treatments were available my life was a mess. I had no permanent housing, I was in an abusive relationship, and Family Services were breathing down my neck. My daughter was removed from me and I wasn’t allowed to call or see her.

I had only just been coping at that point, and this experience sent me into a tornado of anger and hate. Using whatever drugs I could get my hands on, I spiralled down fast. I didn’t want to live but I didn’t want to die either.

I felt vulnerable and trapped

After my months-long pity-party, I decided something had to change or I would end up dead. The thought of my daughter attending my funeral was my motivation to book into rehab. There, I got a full health check and realised I had been in denial about my hep C. I needed to get treatment. It was somewhere to start on my road to health.

At this point in my life, turning up to an appointment was a challenge. But I had made a commitment to myself – if I couldn’t keep an appointment, how could I look after my daughter again? This thought got me over the line, and onto the bus and to the liver clinic on time.

Everyone at the hospital was really nice, but when the nurse took my health history she asked if I was still using and, if so, what drugs. These questions made me anxious. I was being drug tested by Family Services and going through court. Those agencies were accessing my health records and monitoring any prescriptions I placed. I felt vulnerable and trapped. I didn’t want to lie in case it was relevant to the treatment, but I wasn’t going to give out info that could be used against me. So, I lied, which made me even more anxious.

The reality of dying from this disease hit me hard

The fibroscan of my liver was simple and stress-free. But then I was told I had cirrhosis. This hit me harder than the hep C diagnosis had. Suddenly, dying from this disease seemed like a possibility.

The hospital had difficulty finding veins to take my blood, and the flow of blood from the veins they could get was small. Blood samples they collected weren’t useable. More frustration and anxiety!

The doctors and nurses were kind and respectful, but it was definitely impressed on me how much this was costing, and not to lose the prescription. It would be, I was told, a headache of paperwork and red tape to replace. This made me determined to prove that I wasn’t a stereotype, that I could be trusted to complete my treatment.

As I have PTSD, I had to work hard at remembering to take my tablets. I put a system in place to help. While I had a few side-effects, it was difficult to tell if this was due to the treatment or because of everything else I was doing and taking.

Before long, I had finished my three months of treatment and felt proud of myself. I had started and finished something which, during the chaos of my life at the time, was an achievement.

However, I never went back after 12 weeks for the final test.

I didn’t understand why my hep C didn’t clear

Some months later, I returned to rehab and was told I still had the virus. I was gutted and shocked. I didn’t understand why I hadn’t cleared the hep C. I had been so careful and yet “I had blown it”. I assumed I had been reinfected by my partner. I felt embarrassed, and I was angry with him.

A year or so passed before I shared this news with a friend who had also been through hep C treatment. Her advice and encouragement got me back to the liver clinic. Since I believed I had caught it from my partner, I took him along too.

Turns out I still had my original genotype, which was different from my partner’s. Both my self-shame and my anger towards him had been misguided. They told me the reason I hadn’t cleared was unknown.
The doctor said I could be treated again but that better blood collection was needed. Instead of the anxious painful experience from before, I was put in contact with “The Best Liver Nurse on the Planet”. She used an ultrasound machine to find decent veins and, first try, was able to get eight good vials. What a massive relief!

The fibroscan revealed that my liver cirrhosis score had improved, so the first treatment hadn’t been a waste of time. And, instead of telling lies to uncomfortable questions, I asked the reason for the question. The doctor said that knowing if I was using drugs had no relevance to treatment, it was about concern for me. I thanked her for her support, but said I wasn’t comfortable talking about anything illegal I might be doing and reassured her I’d take every precaution.

New hep C treatment turned my life around

The doctor put me on a different treatment drug. I experienced no side-effects this time and quickly started to feel better. I finished the course easy-peasy.

Issues around my housing, Family Services, and, especially, my daughter all remain in limbo. But despite all that, and the stress it brought, I was able to complete treatment… twice! Although I haven’t yet had a definite “you’re cured” test result, I’m booked in for blood tests in August which will hopefully be definitive and give me the good news.

Doing something productive for myself had a knock-on effect. It built self-esteem, which enabled me to have the bravery and self-love to start making changes in my life. Challenges remain in my life but, fingers crossed, hep C will no longer be one of them.

Learn more about hep C by getting in contact with our Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990,
or download one of our free online resources.

 

For help call Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

 

Published 30 July, 2020

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Media Release | Reducing the burden of hepatitis on World Hepatitis Day

Reducing the burden of hepatitis on World Hepatitis DayTens of thousands of people in NSW are living with viral hepatitis. Of greatest concern are hep B and hep C – two viruses that can become life-long chronic conditions, eventually leading to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and sadly, all too often, death. A significant percentage of people living with hep B or hep C are unaware they have it. Even where people know their status, many thousands experience barriers to accessing healthcare, treatment, or cure.

What is the significance of World Hepatitis Day?

World Hepatitis Day is an important event to highlight these issues and drive better outcomes. NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week starts on Monday 27 July, with World Hepatitis Day on Tuesday 28 July. A key activity for this year is the roll out of the bright, eye-catching artwork – wall posters, street pole posters, pull up banners, and pubs and clubs washroom advertising – throughout New South Wales. The messaging focuses on the availability and effectiveness of new hep C treatments.

For hep B, while there is currently no cure, babies born in Australia are vaccinated against it; also, any adult who needs to be vaccinated can be. Hep B testing is available and encouraged for anyone from an at-risk group. Should a person be found to be living with hep B they can have regular monitoring of their liver health, and, if required, treatment to manage their viral load.

For hep C, all Australians over the age of 12 have access to effective and affordable direct acting antiviral (DAA) cures. Hep C treatment is available through local doctors. Community organisations and government agencies work to raise awareness of the cure and help people into and through treatment.

70,000 Australians have been cured of hepatitis C since 2016

Being cured of hep C can improve quality of life. Many people who have finished their course of treatment report feeling greater levels of energy and alertness.

Since the DAAs became available in Australia in 2016, more than 70,000 Australians have been cured of hepatitis C.

Hepatitis NSW CEO, Mr Steven Drew said the medications have a cure rate of 95 per cent. “They can be prescribed by any general practitioner, as well as authorised nurse practitioners. Cure is usually achieved within 8 or 12 weeks, with minimal or no side-effects.”

“These oral pill treatments have offered a revolutionary opportunity,” said Mr Drew. “It is important that people see their health professional to be treated and get their best life back. While hepatitis C initially has almost no symptoms, if left untreated it can ultimately result in significant liver disease.”

We have the rare opportunity to eliminate a chronic disease

Mr Drew said testing for hepatitis C was simple and easy as getting your GP to do a blood test.

“We’ve all led varied and adventurous lives filled with new experiences. It may be that some, or one, of those experiences exposed us to the chance of hepatitis C transmission. The only way to know for sure is to see your GP to have a blood test for hep C.”

“Should you learn you do have hep C, please seriously consider commencing treatment and get cured,” said Mr Drew.

“It is not often we get the chance to eliminate a chronic disease, but we have that opportunity now with hepatitis C,” said Mr Drew. “I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet sought out this medication to explore their treatment options,” adding that Hepatitis NSW could provide information and support to anyone living with, or affected by hepatitis including family and friends of people living with hepatitis C.

“I encourage people to contact the Hepatitis NSW Infoline on 1800 803 990 for more information about the treatment options available or hepatitis generally. You can also contact us using our online chat function on our website hep.org.au.”

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10 Facts about viral hepatitis for World Hepatitis Day!

10 Facts about viral hepatitis for World Hepatitis Day!

This article was written by Dr Alice Lee , Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, Concord Repatriation General Hospital.

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, marking a day where community organisations, clinicians, researchers, and governments raise awareness to the global burden of viral hepatitis. This year’s theme is “finding the missing millions” – in recognition of the many people around the world unaware they are living with hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C.

Did you know the date of World Hepatitis Day is also the birthday of Nobel prize winner Dr Baruch Blumberg? He not only discovered the hepatitis B virus, but also developed a diagnostic test and vaccine for the virus.

Here are ten more facts about hepatitis…

1. There are 5 viruses that predominantly affect the liver…hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E

They are all different viruses and are transmitted through different pathways. Hepatitis A and E are mostly spread through faecal-oral route and are preventable by hand hygiene and careful food preparation. Hepatitis A is more common in Korean communities and is also vaccine preventable. Hepatitis B is spread through blood and body fluids, hepatitis C through blood to blood contact. Hepatitis D only occurs in people infected with hepatitis B and is uncommon in Korean patients.

2. There are over 300 million people in the world that live with viral hepatitis

Less than 20% of the people with the virus are aware that they have the infection. The prevalence rates of hepatitis vary throughout the world, some areas have high rates of hepatitis B of over 10%. Higher rates of hepatitis B are seen in older Koreans born before vaccination programs were available.

3. More than 1.5 million people die each year from viral hepatitis

Many people are unaware of their diagnosis until the very late stages of disease and are often too late to be saved. Causes of death include acute liver failure, but the most common cause of death is liver cancer. Described as a ‘silent killer’, those unaware of their status may only have symptoms when the disease is very advanced and when options of treatment are very limited. It’s important to know your status!

4. Prevention of hepatitis remains central in eliminating viral hepatitis

Vaccines are available for both hepatitis B and for hepatitis A. Hepatitis B vaccine is now a part of Australia’s childhood vaccination schedule, starting at birth. It is safe for people of any age to have, even when pregnant. All people should be vaccinated. Know your status and get vaccinated if you are not protected. Those who are family members or partners of positive patients can access free vaccines through NSW health. Ask your doctor.

5. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are transmitted through blood

Avoid sharing IV needles/syringes, razor blades and toothbrushes. It is safe to share meals, hug your family and friends. Stigma and discrimination is not acceptable. Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns.

6. Hepatitis B, C, and D can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer

Many people can continue to have a healthy and normal life without realising their liver is being damaged. It is essential that, if you are at risk, you see your doctor regularly and get checkups. Taking care of yourself is also very important, in addition to getting vaccinated, avoid excess alcohol and do not smoke, take care not to take medications that can cause liver injury. Focus on a healthy diet, exercise and stay lean.

7. Hepatitis B can be treated

Treatment, for those who require it, is available in the form of an oral tablet. If you are living with hepatitis B, your doctor will assess whether you need treatment based on blood tests, your history and other test results. Even if you do not need treatment, you may need treatment later. Lifelong checkups are needed.

8. Hepatitis C can be cured

People with hepatitis C virus – confirmed with a PCR test – are eligible for treatment in Australia. Tablets are taken for 8 or 12 weeks and the treatment cures more than 95% of cases. Ask your doctor about this!!

9. Beware immune suppression

If you have a medical condition that requires immune suppression, you may be at risk of hepatitis B reactivation (meaning an increase in virus activity in the liver). Know your status and ask your doctor.

10. People with viral hepatitis can be at increased risk of liver cancer

Screening can lead to early detection and curative treatment. Liver cancer is the most common cause of death in patients with hepatitis B. It is asymptomatic and the only way to diagnose it early is by screening. If you have hepatitis B, you may need screening. This is simple, using an ultrasound on a six-monthly basis. It could save your life. High risk groups include older people, those with advanced disease (liver cirrhosis) and a family history of liver cancer. Treatment is available.

Celebrate World Hepatitis Day by spreading awareness about viral hepatitis

You or someone close to you, loved ones can be impacted by hepatitis. Celebrate World Hepatitis Day as a hepatitis community to increase awareness, talk about hepatitis and address the ongoing challenges of increasing prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

You, or someone you know could be one of the “missing millions” … you can play a part in “finding” them. You could save a life – yours, or someone you love.

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The path to hep C cure was difficult, but I made it

The Path To Hep C Cure Was Difficult But I Made ItPaul, one of our Community Peer Workers, has written a guest blog post about his experience of living with and being cured of, hepatitis C.

My experience with hep C started in the years when everything was still done the “old way”. Ultimately, I survived hep C because of the new direct-acting antivirals, but it was a long time coming and I had become very sick before I got the chance to be cured.

I wasn’t aware of the profound impact hep C would have on my life

In the late 1980s, although I was still using at the time, I was dining with a group of recovering injecting drug users. Someone told me that I would “eventually die from hep C”. I hadn’t even been diagnosed at that stage, so this was news to me!

Then, going to rehab in 1994, I was indeed diagnosed with hep C. I had probably contracted it in the late 1970s, when the virus was all but unheard of.

I had no idea just how profound an effect hep C would have on my life. Initially, for many years, I lived normally. But the liver is a fundamental organ – it performs hundreds of functions; it determines our energy and our spirit – and hepatitis C attacks the liver. Over the following decades, I ticked every box of things that could go wrong with my liver.

My energy started to fade. I had ascites. Due to hepatic hypertension and massive blood loss, I went into a coma. And the tests! I will always remember the day I had my liver biopsy.

Hep C lead me to a dark and lonely place

My cognitive ability was leaving me, and I was no longer able to work. All of this put a huge tension on my relationship, which eventually ended. I hadn’t wanted my partner to watch me die.

As my liver became sicker, I was placed on the list for a transplant. Even so, I began to have suicidal ideation, believing that I was going to die anyway. That was a terribly dark and lonely place to be in. I was fearful that if I told my medical team about these thoughts, they would take me off the transplant list.

One of the evaluations in the lead up to my transplant was for mental health, and I was told I should have a “positive attitude”. Thankfully, I decided to talk about what was going on for me. I was referred to a hospital psychologist who specialised in the experiences of folk waiting for a transplant.

As it turned out, my dire thoughts were not unique!

At one stage, the medical team offered me interferon treatment. Had I still been using drugs I doubt that I would have been given treatment, and I knew folk who had been refused for that reason.

Unfortunately, during interferon treatment, my blood platelets plummeted to a critical low level and I was taken off it. Although this was discouraging, the new anti-viral cocktails were on the horizon and my team recommended me for the trial. The word on them was much more positive than interferon – a high success rate with few side effects, how good is that? Incredibly, the drug company refused, saying that I was too big of a risk. That was a huge blow.

The new treatments turned my life and health around and I am now well

Eventually, the new treatments became available in Australia through the PBS on March 1, 2016. I was put on the treatment and – so much for being “a risk” – I was cured of the virus a month before my scheduled transplant. A huge blessing.

Despite being cured of hep C, by this time my liver had gone to stage 4 cirrhosis and I was growing small cancers. While I was now at the top of the list for transplant, the journey to transplant required me to be healthy enough to survive what is dramatic surgery. Being cured of hep C helped me with this.

Although it was a massive challenge, I made it through my liver transplant, and I turned my life and health around. My energy was better after clearing hep C. It might have been an awful experience but, three years later, I am now well.

Throughout all of this, I have been totally open about my condition, prepared to take on any stigma and believing that others might benefit from my openness.

To anyone who may have shared needles, or maybe had a blood transfusion before the virus was identified, I say – go get tested. If you need to be treated and cured it’s an easy process these days, no painful biopsy involved!

Learn more about hep C by getting in contact with our Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 990,
or download one of our free online resources.

Published 13 July, 2020

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