Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Zealand- Hepatitis war can be won - expert

Hepatitis war can be won - expert

Last updated 12:00 28/07/2011

Hepatitis can be "obliterated in a generation" if intravenous drug users stick to clean needles and hepatitis B vaccinations reach almost 100 per cent of the population, a MidCentral Health gastroenterologist says.

"The tragic thing is it could in fact be eradicated quite quickly," Dr Andrew Herbert said.
Today is World Hepatitis Day.

It is expected the number of New Zealanders who will die because of chronic viral hepatitis will treble during the next 20 years.

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to more serious illnesses such as liver failure and liver cancer. Often, people in the early stages of chronic hepatitis B and C have no symptoms, and both strains can be successfully treated to halt the disease.

But low testing and diagnosis rates mean only 10 per cent of all New Zealanders with viral hepatitis have been diagnosed and less than 5 per cent have been cured.

Dr Herbert said it was estimated about 1 per cent of New Zealand's population had either hepatitis B or C. He said he was treating 15 people, almost exclusively for hepatitis C, and another 28 people in the MidCentral district were waiting to start treatment.

"There are undoubtedly a lot more out there, though, who don't know they have it," he said.
The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand said in 90 per cent of hepatitis C cases, the cause was recreational drug injection.

Associate professor and chief hepatologist at the New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit at Auckland City Hospital Ed Gane said viral hepatitis was thought to be responsible for more than 90 per cent of liver cancer cases in New Zealand.

"We need to dramatically increase the number of New Zealanders who receive anti-viral treatment ... to mitigate this health and financial burden."

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