Doctors aim to win Hepatitis C battle

CAROLINE BROWN
Last updated 09:35 22/08/2013
Reese Cameron
CAROLINE BROWN
New horizons: Dr Reese Cameron is excited about the new hepatitis C treatment in New Zealand.

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The Wellingtonian

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The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand is rolling out a pilot programme in Wellington that it hopes will revolutionise the treatment of Hepatitis C in New Zealand.

It targets those who have chronic hepatitis C and aims to provide them with the latest treatment.

Wellington Hospital gastroenterologist Reese Cameron said traditional treatment cured only between 50 and 60 per cent of people.

Patients require weekly injections and daily tablets for 6 to 12 months which nasty side effects.

The new treatment was just tablets and would cure all hepatitis C with none of the side effects, he said.

"We have a trial of some sort running most of the time in this department," he said. "These patients get cured. They previously would not have been with the old treatment or have failed the old treatment. It's a very exciting time for hepatitis C."

He said the new treatment was imperative because most patients with chronic hepatitis C were injection drug users with lifestyles not compatible with the old treatment. One of the side effects was depressions and it would "knock them off the rails".

Hepatitis C is a common virus that affects the liver. About 170 million people in the world had it and up to 50,000 people in New Zealand, Dr Cameron said.

Fatigue is the main, and usually only symptom, which makes the condition incredibly hard to diagnose.

"Most people when diagnosed have had the disease for 10 to 30 years. That means a lot of patients have quite advanced liver disease."

Dr Cameron said hepatitis C was the most common cause of people requiring a liver transplant in most developed countries.

He said the biggest myth surrounding hepatitis C was how infectious it was. It required a blood-to-blood transfer and could not be passed on by physical contact or food.

Elizabeth, who wished to remain anonymous, lived with undiagnosed chronic hepatitis C for 14 years after being infected during a blood transfusion in 1989. She said ignorance after sharing her diagnosis was one of the biggest hurdles she faced.

"Without realising I was watching, my loved one took the cup and plate I had just used, put on gloves, and started to sterilise them both. At that precise moment I felt the presence of shame surround me," she said.

The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand is running the pilot in the Wellington, Hutt, Wairarapa, and Bay of Plenty DHBs. If successful, the foundation hopes to roll it out nationally.

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The pilot comes after the Hepatitis Foundation's Can You Say Yes campaign, which aimed to identify those with Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis Foundation chief executive John Hornell said there were indicators to recognise.

"Did you ever experiment with intravenous drugs, even only once? Did you receive blood products prior to 1992? Have you lived or received medical treatment overseas? Have you ever used unsterile equipment for tattooing or piercing? If so, you need to get tested," Mr Hornell said.

- The Wellingtonian

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