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Hepatitis C Awareness Day

6 September 2002

Reminders About Prevention For Hepatitis C Awareness Day

An estimated 25,000 New Zealanders are infected with hepatitis C and this number is predicted to increase to over 37,000 in the next 10 years, said Ministry of Health spokesperson Dr Doug Lush.

Hepatitis C Awareness Day tomorrow, September 7, is an opportunity to remind people about ways to prevent infection and minimise the impact of the disease.

Dr Lush said hepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver, is a global health problem of significant clinical, personal and public health importance.

"Initially infection often occurs without symptoms. One in five people recover and the rest become chronically infected," said Dr Lush.

"Chronic infection with hepatitis C can lead to years of ill health and reduced quality of life. Some people with chronic infection are at risk of developing cirrhosis, cancer of the liver and liver failure."

Dr Lush said hepatitis C is primarily spread by blood-to-blood contact and in developed countries including New Zealand, the injection of illicit drugs has become the single most important risk factor for acquiring the virus, accounting for around 80 percent of infections.

"The best advice we can give is not to inject illicit drugs," said Dr Lush.

"However, if people are already injecting drug-users, harm can be reduced by not sharing needles, syringes, and other equipment and by attending needle and syringe exchange outlets for sterile equipment and good advice."

For people already infected with hepatitis C, re-infection should be avoided and alcohol intake should be minimal. Also, affected people should consider being immunised against hepatitis A and hepatitis B if they are already not immune to these viruses.

The Ministry is developing an action plan on hepatitis C prevention, expected to be released by October this year.

"The ultimate goals of the action plan are to reduce the transmission of hepatitis C and the personal and social impacts of the disease," said Dr Lush.

Advice and information on hepatitis C can be sought from GPs, specialists, or Hepatitis C Resource Centres.

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organisation has estimated that as many as 170 million individuals (about three percent of the world's population) are infected with hepatitis C virus and three?four million people are newly infected each year.

Unlike hepatitis B, there is currently no hepatitis C vaccine available and the development of an effective vaccine is not imminent.

The Ministry of Health action plan has been developed to help address the New Zealand Health Strategy priority population health objective: Minimising harm caused by alcohol and illicit and other drug use to individuals and the community.

The Ministry of Health's action plan identifies priority areas for action at a national, regional and local level by government agencies and at a local area by District Health Boards, service providers and others. It identifies policies or programmes that can be delivered in the near future within existing resources, and those that will require extra resources before they can be implemented.

The Ministry of Health published Guidelines for the Safe Piercing of Skin (Ministry of Health 1998). These guidelines provide a framework of minimum standards with respect to infection control in the body piercing and tattooing industries, with a particular focus on protection of staff and clients from blood-borne viruses.

The Hepatitis C Resource & Support Centres, Needle Exchange New Zealand and the New Zealand Drugs Foundation organised activities in the week leading up to Hepatitis C Awareness Day. These included a poster competition, a prevention awareness advertising campaign targeted at young people on television, and radio interviews advertising awareness of the disease.

For more information:

Auckland Hepatitis C Resource Centre P O Box 90563 Auckland 0800-224-372.

Christchurch Hepatitis C Resource Centre P O Box 4477 Christchurch 03-366-3608.

Also see: www.hepc.org.nz


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