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Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:10

Hepatitis C notifications rising among over 45s

As part of NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week older people are being urged to ‘remember their youth’ and consider whether they need a hepatitis C test.


Health Statistics NSW figures show that, since 2002, the proportion of hepatitis C notifications which involve people 45 and over has grown from 20.3%, to 41.1% of all notifications for the 12 months ending 30 June 2013.


In fact, the annual proportion of NSW hepatitis C notifications which involve people 55 and over is now 18%, while 4.6% of notifications in 2012-13 involved people 65 and over.


“The good news is that the overall number of notifications for hepatitis C in NSW continues to decline,” Hepatitis NSW CEO, Mr Stuart Loveday, said.


However, while the total number of notifications state-wide has dropped by 48.1%, from 6,221 in 2002, to 3,226 in 2012-13, the number of notifications involving people 45 and over has actually increased over this period, from 1,261, to 1,325 over the past 12 months.


“This is concerning because the long-term consequences of hepatitis C can include liver damage, liver cancer, and the need for liver transplant,” Mr Loveday added, “if people are not diagnosed for many years, the chances of having cirrhosis are higher.”


Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus, and the primary means of transmission in Australia remains sharing equipment which is used to inject drugs, although some transmissions also occurred prior to the introduction of blood screening in 1990.


“There is no shame in having used drugs,” Mr Loveday said, “but it would be shame if people weren’t diagnosed and as a result missed out on the new treatments for hepatitis C which are now available.”


Following the Australian Government’s funding support in April for the first new treatment advances in a decade almost all people in Australia living with hepatitis C can have cure rates of 75 to 80%.


“A cure is now possible for the overwhelming majority of people living with hepatitis C,” Mr Loveday added.


Some notifications in people 45 and over likely also involve people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities who have migrated from countries which have a higher prevalence of hepatitis C due to unsterile medical procedures.


“The most important message to people is, if you think you may have been exposed to hepatitis C, whether because you may have injected in the past, or come from a higher prevalence country, get tested,” Mr Loveday said.


“And if you have hepatitis C, it’s really important to see your doctor to get a referral to have your liver health assessed. This will help people decide whether they should go onto treatment sooner rather than later,” Mr Loveday concluded.


For information and support, call the Hepatitis Helpline on 1800 803 990 or see www.hep.org.au.


24 July 2013.

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