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March 8, 2021

Hep C? There’s a cure and people on the north coast are missing out

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Digby Hildreth

Well over 70,000 people have been cured of hepatitis C in the past four years – more than 2,000 of them in Northern NSW.

One of these people is long-term Northern Rivers resident Catherine Davies,* who contracted hepatitis C as a ‘young and impressionable’ 18-year-old.

She caught the virus the same way that 90 per cent of people do – by sharing needles. That was more than 35 years ago. For most of that time, Catherine lived unaware she had the disease, despite feeling ‘ridiculously tired all the time’.

It is normal for the virus to lie hidden like this, a ‘silent’ presence in the liver, even for decades. If left untreated, it can lead to symptoms that might include fatigue, muscle aches, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, a rash and itching. Many people mistakenly attribute these symptoms to just getting older.

As the virus progresses, it can lead to diseases such as cirrhosis. Liver failure and cancer are also possible outcomes.

Catherine avoided this grim scenario by seeing her GP for a blood test in 2018 and going on a program the antiviral drugs that are available to everyone with a Medicare card through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

She had been first diagnosed with hepatitis C in the mid-90s. However, because her ‘viral load’ wasn’t too high, she declined the treatment that was available then – a six-month course of pills and weekly injections of Interferon. People she knew had had a ‘terrible time’ on the Interferon program, she says.

New options

Catherine continued to suffer from other minor illnesses and ‘niggly things’ that she thought might be hep C related and when offered the new antivirals two years ago she jumped at the chance.

Within months she was clear of the virus. Three months after finishing treatment, another blood test confirmed she was cured and her liver functioning within the normal range.

Transformation

Her life has been transformed by the treatment, she says, with a return to physical wellbeing and an ever-increasing improvement in her energy levels and mental clarity.

Catherine is one of 2,189 people from the Northern Rivers treated for the virus – up to September 2019. But that leaves an estimated 3,000 who remain untreated.

This statistic has led Hepatitis NSW, in collaboration with the Northern NSW Local Health District, to launch the TEST CURE LIVE campaign – to reach out to those people living with the virus, which used to be known only as hepatitis non-A non-B.

‘If you think there is any chance you may have contracted hepatitis C, even if it was decades ago, through needles, a blood transfusion or tattoos, I would urge you to ask your GP for a blood test to find out,’ says Krista Zohrab of the Lismore Liver Clinic.

 ‘There is no reason to live with hepatitis C. A simple test, followed by tablets, for two or three months is all it takes to be cured. Treatment is cheap, with few or no side effects, and 95 per cent successful.’

If you are not comfortable talking to your GP, Krista suggests you call Lismore Liver Clinic on 6620 7539.

‘We can help organise testing and treatment anywhere on the Northern Rivers,’ says Krista.

For more information, visit TEST CURE LIVE.

*Not her real name


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