Australia is well placed to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 yet many people continue to miss out on treatment.
According to Hepatitis Australia, thousands have yet to be tested and are unaware they have hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
World Hepatitis Day is recognised annually on 28 July, with this year’s theme #LetsTalkHep focusing on confronting the stigma and increasing conversations about the disease.
Westmead Hospital Hepatology clinical nurse consultant Kristen McKee said many people associate hepatitis with drug use, when in fact there are many other risk factors associated with the virus.
“Hepatitis B and C are both spread through blood to blood contact, but hepatitis B can also be sexually transmitted,” Kristen said.
“The stigma around this virus needs to be reduced.
“By having the conversation and normalising the hepatitis virus, more people will be willing to seek treatment, therefore helping us to eliminate hepatitis in Australia.”
More than 220,000 Australians are living with hepatitis C and current treatment has greater than 95% cure rates. Testing and treatment is free and accessible for all Australians under Medicare.
Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has set up many initiatives to identify and care for people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
The WSLHD Liver Wellness Program runs a nurse-led shared care service with GPs and they are currently looking after more than 450 patients with hepatitis B in Western Sydney.
WSLHD has also launched a mobile van to make hepatitis C testing easier and faster with free blood collection by specialist staff.
“Testing takes just a few minutes. Once the blood has been collected, patients requiring treatment can commence treatment and care in a matter of weeks,” Kristen said.
“Our van was unable continue its service during the start of COVID-19, but it is now back up and running in the community, albeit in a slower capacity and with additional measures to ensure COVID-19 safety.”
“We rely on health staff identifying people who are at risk in their clinical areas and helping to ensure they are screened and referred for treatment.”
The hepatology department is running activities across the district from July 27-31 to encourage conversation and increase awareness about the virus.
These activities include:
- Roaming the hospital to promote hepatitis and answer any staff questions.
- In-services in ED for the clinical staff
- Handing out hep C screening and referral pathway cards for staff ID tags
- A short hepatitis quiz – staff who get 100% go in the draw for a small prize. Scan the QR code below to access the quiz on your phone
- Promotion of the ‘Stigma and Discrimination’ HETI online module – staff who complete this short course also go into the draw for a prize
For more information on testing, treatment, and prevention for hepatitis C, call the Hepatitis Infoline on 1800 803 900 or visit https://www.hep.org.au/hep-c/