Hepatitis C could cost New Zealand $400 mil 2020
Hepatitis C could cost New Zealand $400 million by 2020
24 September 2006
For immediate release
Hepatitis C affects an estimated 40,000 New Zealanders but only about 25 percent know they have the disease.[1, 2]
This is according to New Zealand’s leading liver transplant physician Associate Professor Ed Gane who says hepatitis C is now the country’s leading cause of liver transplants and second leading cause of liver failure. About 60 people with hepatitis C need liver transplants a year but there are only about 30 liver donors.
The cost to our healthcare system of not diagnosing or treating people chronically infected with hepatitis C was projected to be $400 million by 2020, Prof Gane said. 
“There is, however, a solution to avoid the cost being this high and that is for people who are at risk of having contracted the virus to get tested so they can be treated if need be. Testing will also allow those with the virus to take precautions to avoid spreading the virus.”
World Hepatitis Awareness Day (WHAD) is being held on Sunday, October 1st, and this year’s theme is: “Get Tested”. The day, endorsed by the World Health Organisation, is an opportunity to raise awareness of the disease and encourage people at risk to be screened.
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The disease progresses over many years and can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. HCV is a blood-borne virus that is transmitted via direct blood-to-blood contact. Unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine (protection) against hepatitis C.
The main modes of transmission are:
- Sharing of needles by intravenous drug users
- Non-sterile tattooing and body piercing equipment
- Receiving blood transfusions or blood products (before HCV screening of donor blood began in July 1992).
John Hornell, CEO of the Hepatitis Foundation of NZ, said early diagnosis and intervention for people with hepatitis C lead to the best health outcomes.
“Recent advancements in treatment mean the disease has higher cure rates than was previously achievable. In New Zealand the treatment rate is low because many people in the chronic stage are not diagnosed or are not seeking treatment. We know that the effectiveness of treatments decline when it is delayed.”
Mr Hornell said the difficulty with the disease was that many people with chronic hepatitis C did not experience symptoms, or if they did, the symptoms were mild or non-specific.
The most common early symptoms of hepatitis C were mild fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite and anxiety / depression.
“That is why we encourage anyone who maybe at risk of carrying the virus to get the diagnostic blood test, whether or not they experience symptoms, so they can receive any necessary treatment before the liver is irreversibly impaired or before they unwittingly transmit the virus to anyone else.”
For more information on hepatitis and patient support groups, people can visit the Hepatitis Foundation of NZ website www.hepfoundation.org.nz.
1. Appendix -excerpt from HCV management document (not yet published), Bill Jang, Hepatitis C Resource Centre, Christchurch
2. Extrapolation of confirmed Auckland HCV figures (5,000) to the rest of New Zealand
3. GP CME 2005 conference presentation, Prof E Gane, June 2005
4. Strader DB, Wright T, Thomas DL, Seeff LB. Diagnosis, management and treatment of hepatitis C. Hepatology 2004;39(4):1147-71.