Australia has the potential to eradicate hepatitis C in the next 10–15 years, according to Associate Professor Simone Strasser, gastroenterologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.
Writing in the latest edition of Australian Prescriber, Professor Strasser says that the new oral antiviral treatments for hepatitis C are so effective and well tolerated that 95% of patients will be cured with a short course of treatment.
As these new treatments are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and have a very wide prescriber base that includes GPs, new cases of hepatitis will become rare. Consequently liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and liver transplantation will decrease.
This outcome can only be achieved if all people with chronic hepatitis C are diagnosed, assessed, treated and followed up appropriately, says Professor Strasser. To be cured, it is important for patients to take their medicines every day for the full course of treatment.
“It is essential that all medical practitioners, particularly GPs, have the skills to diagnose patients with hepatitis C and either manage them with specialist support if needed, or refer them for specialist care.”
It is estimated that 82% of the 227,000 people living with hepatitis C in Australia have been diagnosed. However, many of them have either not been informed of their diagnosis or are not aware of the implications of chronic viral hepatitis.
Before 2016, less than one in four Australians with chronic hepatitis C had been treated and approximately one in five was undiagnosed. Because hepatitis C is a major cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer, it is essential that all people with chronic infection are identified so that treatment can be provided.
“Anyone at risk of contracting a blood-borne infection should be tested for hepatitis C, as should anyone with evidence of chronic liver disease or abnormal liver enzymes”, says Professor Strasser.
“Approximately 80% of those infected are injecting drug users, and so should be a major focus for testing. Other important groups include migrants from high-prevalence countries or regions such as Egypt, Pakistan, Mediterranean and eastern European countries, Africa and Asia.”
To read the full article and others visit nps.org.au/australianprescriber.
Australian Prescriber is an independent peer-reviewed journal providing critical commentary on therapeutic topics for health professionals, particularly doctors in general practice. It is published every two months and distributed to health professionals free of charge, and is also available online at nps.org.au/australianprescriber.
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