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Researchers - Hidden Epidemic Threatens Thousands

MEDICAL RESEARCHERS SAY ‘HIDDEN EPIDEMIC’ THREATENS THOUSANDS

It was only discovered a decade ago, but doctors and medical researchers tracking the growth of the new Hepatitis C virus say it’s impact is now reaching epidemic proportions and cutting across all levels of society. This month Australasian medical attention will be focussed on Christchurch as international experts gather to discuss the HCV epidemic and its evolution as a global disease in affluent societies.

The Second Australasian Conference on Hepatitis C, “THE EVOLVING EPIDEMIC”, will take place at the Christchurch Convention Centre from the 17-19 August.

Co-convenor of the conference, Dr Cheryl Brunton from the Department of Public Health at the Christchurch School of Medicine, says Hepatitis C is a misunderstood illness which is now affecting thousands of New Zealanders and can lead to serious liver disease .

“ Many people are unaware of the spread of HCV. It’s estimated to have infected up to 30,000 New Zealanders and that number is growing quite rapidly. In Australia the figure is about 200,000 people who have the virus. Unfortunately at present there is only about a 20% chance of being cured through the use of sophisticated drugs such as interferon.”

Conventionally many people have linked Hepatitis C with intravenous drug users and transmission through the sharing of needles. But these days it is not that simple. People are becoming infected by living with someone who has the virus, or who are in contact with carriers. In the past people have also been infected through blood transfusion from a donor with HCV, but since blood screening was introduced in New Zealand in 1992 the risk from post-transfusion hepatitis is virtually zero (1:200,000).

The second Australasian Conference will cover a wide range of issues related to this ‘hidden epidemic’. Some speakers have the virus themselves and have direct experience of intravenous drug use. Others have researched and worked in this area for at least a decade and will present a papers on what health systems need to do to combat its spread.

Associate Professor Graeme Woodfield, Auckland School of Medicine.
Discusses the effectiveness of HCV screening of blood transfusions , and the impact on those who were infected before screening was introduced to N.Z. in 1992.

Professor Sandy Gifford, Deakin University, Australia.
The experience of women with HCV and it’s impact on their lives. Pregnancy and partnerships.

Dr Nick Crofts. MacFarlane Burnet Centre for Medical Research, Melbourne
What have been some of the effective and ineffective strategies for controlling the spread of HCV amongst injecting drug users.

Matthew Dolan. HCV Gobal Board, UK
Published first ‘HCV Handbook’ in the UK after being diagnosed with virus in 1993. Active in a range of initiatives on how to deal with the increase in HCV.

Jude Byrne. Australian Intravenous League National HCV Education Programme. Expert on prevention of HCV amongst drug users. On methadone programme. HCV positive for ten years.

Other than the above keynote speakers the Second Australasian Conference on Hepatitis C will provide an invaluable opportunity to talk to a wide range of health professionals, clinicians and research scientists who are now addressing the spread of HCV in New Zealand and Australia. A large number of speakers listed on the programme have expertise in the diverse strategies needed to manage, and roll back the growth of this ‘hidden epidemic’.

For more information:

Dr Robert Kemp. 04 382 8404, 021 960 8404 (during conference)

Dr Cheryl Brunton. Department of Public Health. Christchurch School of Medicine.03 364 0530.

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