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Hepatitis C - an escalating public health issue

20 May 2004

Hepatitis C - an escalating public health issue

Worldwide an estimated 175 million people are infected with the Hepatitis C virus. A further three to four million people are newly infected every year. "It is an escalating public health issue", says Hepatitis Foundation Chief Executive John Hornell.

In New Zealand an estimated 30,000 plus New Zealanders are infected with the hepatitis C virus. More people are being infected with hepatitis C with a further 1,300 new cases each year.

"Hepatitis C is referred to as the 'Silent Epidemic' because most infected patients do not develop symptoms, with less than 30 percent of hepatitis C infected people having been diagnosed. The main means of transmission of hepatitis C is blood-to-blood contact".

The hepatitis C virus is most commonly spread through intravenous (IV) drug use with infected needles and syringes. Around 80% of hepatitis C cases are the result of needle sharing by IV drug users. Studies in different groups of IV users have shown rates of hepatitis C infection between 40 and 85%.

"Public education is urgently needed. You can cure most cases of hepatitis C as long as patients comply with recommended treatment regimes. People in high-risk groups such as IV drug users, prisoners and ex prisoners must be encouraged to be tested for the virus.

"We are delighted Pharmac has given approval for a new treatment for hepatitis C. Around 250 hepatitis C sufferers will be better off thanks to Pharmac's decision to fund the newest hepatitis C treatment Pegatron.

ENDS

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