Have you heard of Hepatitis C? Perhaps you may have heard of someone who has Hep C, or have worried about whether you might be at risk? Well, Hep C treatments have come a long way in the last few years and it’s a great example of a real breakthrough in medicine. It’s a disease that can now be treated through your GP. Hep C is pretty common with 200, 000 people in Australia affected – enough to fill the MCG twice.
What is Hep C?
Hep C is a virus that lives in the blood. It’s very, very infectious if sharing needles and syringes, or other drug-injecting equipment. Tattooing or body-piercing in developing countries is high risk. Sexual activity is actually quite low risk unless there are open wounds to the skin. Sharing of normal household items, touching, kissing, hugging – this is very low risk.
What does Hep C cause?
The main problem is damage to the liver. This can take years to develop. Symptoms can be quite non-specific such as fatigue and flu-like illnesses. Poor appetite, weakness, depression, mood swings, skin rashes, dry mouth, dry eyes can all occur.
Who should get tested?
Anyone who might have been exposed to blood through work – health care workers, emergency services, etc.
Anyone who has had a medical procedure or tattoos / body piercings overseas.
Especially, anyone with a history of intravenous (IV) drug use, even if it was many years ago.
How do you get a test?
It’s easy – come and see your GP and we will give you a form for a blood test. We normally check for other things at the same time, such as Hepatitis B, HIV and sexually transmitted infections, as well as kidneys, liver and blood cell counts. The blood tests are free through Medicare. If we find that you have been exposed to Hep C, we perform more sophisticated blood tests to show how active the virus is, and an ultrasound scan of the liver.
How is Hep C treated?
Since 2016 a number of new, improved treatments called Antivirals have become available, subsidised by the PBS so they are low cost. They can be prescribed via your GP, or through specialists both private and public.
Amazingly these treatments can very often cure what used to be a very dangerous, chronic, long-term problem – sometimes even needing liver transplantation.
They come in the form of tablets that are taken for between 2 and 6 months. Side effects are usually very mild, and it is uncommon for people to have to stop treatment. We follow you up throughout treatment with repeat blood tests to make sure all is going well.
If you would like to find out more, come and see your GP at Azure Medical – call 92869900 or book online. Our new GP, Dr Dovida Hickey, has particular experience in the area. Or read more at www.hepatitisaustralia.com.