The World Health Organisation’s Hepatitis day is the 28th of July every year, and the focus this year is on finding the un-diagnosed cases clinicians know are out there.
Andrew Szabo, Clinic Care Coordinator at the Hepatitis WA says that the focus is on the B and C strains of the virus.
“Hepatitis A can cause nausea and diarrhea and some not very nice symptoms. But it’s in 99% of people self resolving… whereas with B and C, the virus will colonize inside the liver.”
Over time, as the liver is slowly damaged by the virus, the patient’s only symptom will be fatigue- the liver is struggling to process carbohydrates into energy.
This is why, Andrew says, so many people have the disease without knowing it.
“Statistically, we know that there are millions of people out there with hepatitis C, that have never sought treatment or been treated for the disease.”
The latter stages of the disease, if not treated, see the complete breakdown of liver function.
The removal and processing of toxins from the body begins to fail, and the build up of toxins can begin to affect the nervous system. It can even mess with your mind.
“If you had late stage cirrhosis, every time you had a drink, you would be incredibly violently ill; your body would not be able to break down that alcohol anymore.”
In Australia, most people are vaccinated against Hep B. Catching Hep C can be very easy and almost unnoticeable.
“The amount of hepatitis C infected blood that is required for transfer is quite small. So it could be from a razor that doesn’t visibly look like it’s got blood on that,” says Andrew.
Tattoos done at home and on overseas holidays can also be vectors for the disease.
But hepatitis C is a fairly recent discovery- only identified in the late 80’s.
“[Before 1990] We had no way of testing for hepatitis C, and it’s also more hardy than other viruses; it takes a lot more to sterilize something against Hep C than it does most other blood borne viruses,” Andrew says.
Theses days, a medical history that includes any blood transfusions, dental work or medical procedures from pre-1990 is considered a risk factor.
But Andrew says new, easy and effective treatments are making now the best time to get tested.
“You can ask your GP for a Hepatitis B and C test is a simple blood test that you can get done pretty much anywhere.”
The new treatments are known as direct acting anti-viral agents, and they work against all of the sub-categories of Hep C.
“The old hepatitis treatments involved a lot of injections, and they could be quite nasty and they could make people quite sick.”
These days, it’s just taking a tablet either once or three times a day.
“[There are] over 95% cure rates, and almost no side effects- the most common side effect is nothing more than a headache.”
“That’s why we’re encouraging people to get tested- because the treatment is so easy now.”
Hepatitis WA (Inc) is a non-profit community-based organisation providing free healthcare services.
Hepatitis WA aims to assist in obtaining the best possible care and support for people affected by hepatitis, reducing discrimination and stigma directed at people living with viral hepatitis and raising community awareness in relation to hepatitis.
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