28 July is World Hepatitis Day. This year, Hepatitis SA is urging South Australians not to wait. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen people put off seeing their healthcare providers. Unfortunately, for some conditions, there can be dire consequences if you wait. Hepatitis is one of those.
Worldwide, someone dies from hepatitis-related illness every 30 seconds. In Australia, hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer which is the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths. Delays in acting on hepatitis during the pandemic was confirmed by the Doherty Institute WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis which reported a 20% drop in hepatitis testing in 2020, compared to the same time in 2019.
There is a safe and effective vaccine against hepatitis B. For people who are living with the virus, regular monitoring will ensure timely treatment that will help to keep the virus in check and prevent serious liver disease.
A quarter of the 220,000 people in Australia with chronic hepatitis B are undiagnosed and therefore not receiving any care. More worrying is the fact that only one in five of these people are in medical care. The expert advice is for all people with chronic hepatitis B to receive regular monitoring and timely treatment as needed. We are nowhere near the conservative national target to have half of people with chronic hepatitis B to be in medical care by the end of next year.
In South Australia, there are over 12,000 people living with hepatitis B and an estimated 3,000 of these people are unaware of their infection. Less than 1 in 5 South Australians with chronic hepatitis B are receiving medical care and only 1 in 20 are on treatment. This is a long way off from the national targets of getting half of all people with hepatitis B into ongoing care and 1 in 5 on treatment.
Not everyone with chronic hepatitis B needs to be on treatment, but experts estimate that about a quarter will need to be on antiviral therapy to minimize adverse outcomes. Without regular and timely medical care, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure or liver cancer.
In 2018, there were more than 400 hepatitis B-related deaths in Australia. Hepatitis SA is urging the community not to wait, to take action to stop hepatitis B.
Get tested. Get the right care. Don’t wait.
Hepatitis C treatment uptake in South Australia is above the national average. Yet 8,000 South Australians still unnecessarily live with the life-threatening disease that can be cured in 8 or 12 weeks. Nationally, that number stands at 120,000.
Highly effective Direct-acting Antivirals (DAAs) have made it possible to cure the chronic disease that many had thought they would have for life. The new treatment is available to any adult Australian with a Medicare Card.
One in five of people with chronic hepatitis C don’t know they have the infection, or that a simple course of tablets could rid them of the virus damaging their liver. There may even be some people who think they can wait because they have not experienced any symptoms. Unfortunately, liver damage can occur without symptoms; at Hepatitis SA we are sadly aware of many who have been cured of hepatitis C but who are still dealing with poor liver health due to earlier damage.
Hepatitis C. Don’t Wait. Get tested. Get cured.
Australia is one of the countries on track to eliminate hepatitis by 2030 – a World Health Organization target but the number of people starting hepatitis C treatment has been falling after the initial surge when the new drugs became publicly available in 2016. The 2020 drop in diagnosis, and resulting management, will have flow-on effects on progress towards achieving the WHO target.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are infectious diseases with possible serious consequences for those with these chronic conditions, but they are treatable and preventable. With an effective vaccine for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C, both viruses can be eliminated. The challenge is to find those who are not diagnosed, or not in medical care and offer appropriate pathways for them to cure or manage their condition.
Hepatitis – Don’t wait.
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- National Surveillance for Hepatitis B Indicators – Measuring the progress towards the targets of the National Hepatitis B Strategy – Annual Report 2017, WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, Doherty Institute.