Spotlight on hepatitis

KELSEY WILKIE
Last updated 12:00 28/07/2014

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As the Manawatu hepatitis community nurse, Marty Graham sees first hand what can happen when someone waits to get tested for hepatitis.

Today marks the seventh World Hepatitis Day, which is one of only four official disease-specific world health days, held in partnership with the World Health Organisation.

Graham has been in her role for 14 years and she said her patients had become like family.

Her role is mostly about education.

"There's a lot of misconceptions around it," she said.

"They often think ‘I'm fit and healthy, so I don't have it' but many people don't realise they have it."

About 150,000 New Zealanders live with chronic hepatitis B or C, and most are unaware they have it. Viral hepatitis is the main cause of liver cancer and liver transplantation in New Zealand. In most cases, liver cancer is preventable if detected early.

"I have one patient who was in his early forties, he had a young family, he had his blood tests and that showed he had liver cancer. Because the tumour was picked up really early, he was able to get a transplant.

"He is now back at work. He's watching his children grow up.

"If he wasn't having his regular blood tests . . . he would have died.

"I look at him and think ‘that's why I do the job'," Graham said.

People at risk of hepatitis B are those who are over 25 and of Maori, Pacific Island, or Asian ethnicity. Also at risk are people whose mother or close family has hepatitis B, or if they live with someone who has hepatitis B.

The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand chief executive John Hornell said: "All it takes is a simple blood test that can be arranged by The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand for free, or you can talk to your doctor."

The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand is a charitable trust promoting positive health outcomes for people living with chronic hepatitis. Call 0800 33 20 10 or visit hepatitisfoundation.org.nz.

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- Manawatu Standard

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