Westmead Hospital liver physician Professor Jacob George extends his congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for saving millions of lives through the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.
British scientist Michael Houghton and US researchers Harvey Alter and Charles Rice received the world’s most prestigious award for medicine last week in recognition of their work over several decades to identify the mysterious infection that was making people sick after receiving a blood transfusion.
There are still 70 million people living with hepatitis C today and it claims around 400,000 lives each year.
Australia is on track to completely eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.
“This achievement is only possible thanks to the remarkable work of these researchers over many decades to identify the mysterious and deadly illness. It is difficult to overestimate their legacy for global health,” Prof George said.
“Hepatitis C is no longer a death sentence. With the medicines available today we can cure more than 95 per cent of cases and greatly improve people’s quality of life. Most people can be cured with 12 weeks with no injections and minimal side effects.”
More than 24,000 people have been cured of hepatitis C in NSW since new treatments became available in 2016. It is estimated that 58,000 people across the state are yet to seek treatment.
The symptoms of hepatitis C include:
- Tiredness, lethargy
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Rarely dark urine and pale stools
These symptoms may pass after a few days or weeks, but the virus can remain active for many years and cause serious and potentially fatal liver damage.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact. Those at risk include anyone who has ever injected drugs, been in prison, received a drug transfusion in Australia before February 1990, or were born in or received medical treatment in a region with high prevalence of hepatitis C, including in Asia and the Middle East.