Call to take hepatitis test
WITH the Northern Rivers experiencing the highest notification rate of hepatitis C infection in NSW, people are being urged to get tested for the virus this week during Hepatitis Awareness week.
Northern NSW Local Health District manager of HIV and related programs Jenny Heslop said data obtained by Medicare Local showed the rate of hepatitis C infection is highest in the local government areas of Lismore and Byron Bay.
"Even though a number of public health strategies such as blood donor screening, hepatitis B vaccinations and the well-used needle exchange program have contributed to significantly minimising the rates of transmission, we still have a long way to get on top of this issue," she said.
Hepatitis B and C are two different blood-borne viruses that cause liver inflammation and liver disease.
Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer, with most patients developing cirrhosis within 10 to 20 years of being infected.
Lismore Liver Clinic manager and clinical nurse consultant Mark Fuller said the most common patients to report hepatitis C infections in the Northern Rivers were people who had been exposed to the virus 10 to 20 years ago and were unaware they were infected.
"People should consider being tested if they feel they have been at risk or possibly exposed by either sharing injecting equipment - even if only once, had a tattoo or body piercing from a non-registered facility; arrived from, or had medical treatment in a country with high rates of hepatitis B or C; or received blood or blood products prior to blood screening being implemented in 1990," he said.
Both Mr Fuller and Ms Heslop encouraged people to break through the stigma associated with hepatitis C and get tested.
"People who are worried about the stigma attached to hepatitis C can go to their GP and request a full blood test and if the virus is detected they will be referred to the liver clinic," Ms Heslop said.
"The treatment is an injection once a week and tablets two or three times a day and has a more than 70% success rate"
What to look out for
Signs of hepatitis infection:
Fatigue and lethargy
General feeling of unwellness