Region has third highest hepatitis C numbers in NSW

THE Northern Rivers continues to have one of the highest number of hepatitis C cases in the state with 233 new notifications last year.

Figures from the NSW Hepatitis B and C Strategies 2014 annual data report rank the Northern NSW Local Health District third in the state with 79 hepatitis C notifications per 100,000 people.

Northern NSW Local Health District HIV and related programs manager Jenny Heslop said most of the 233 people notified had likely been living with hepatitis C for many years.

"Hepatitis C is a chronic infection unless it is successfully treated so it is difficult to get an accurate measure of hepatitis C prevalence in any community," she said.

Ms Heslop said only an estimated 1.7% of the population living with the blood-borne virus have accessed treatment.

"The North Coast of NSW has had high rates of hepatitis C notification for many years compared to other regional areas in NSW, probably reflecting recent and past behaviours of local residents as well as the underlying social determinants of health of the region," she said.

The Far West Local Health District scored highest in the state, with a rate of 94 notifications per 100,000 people and the Western NSW Local Health District second with 85.

Northern Sydney has the lowest notification rate in the state with less than 20 notifications per 100,000.

The annual report also showed that only 1.15% of the estimated 90,000 people living with hepatitis C in NSW started treatment in 2014.

Hepatitis NSW acting CEO Robert Wisniewski said the current treatment rates were far too low to stop the rising death toll from hepatitis C-related liver disease, which in 2013 claimed the lives of more than 630 people in Australia.

"Ongoing low treatment rates are a direct consequence of a lack of access to new, more effective hepatitis C drugs," he said.

Ms Heslop said anyone who may have been placed at risk of contracting viral hepatitis should talk to their GP or visit a hepatitis clinic for testing.

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