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Hepatitis C
The Silent Epidemic.

In New Zealander up to fifty thousand people may be living with hepatitis C (HCV), which has often been referred to as the  silent epidemic.  Each year there are approximately 1500 new infections of HCV.  Three quarters of those newly infected will sustain a chronic infection that can possibly affect them for the rest of their lives.

HCV, is a virus that infects the liver and cause inflammation potentially leading to progressive liver disease.  Although it is a notifiable infectious disease, it is rarely diagnosed early during the acute phase because of the absence of symptoms. Consequently,  our disease surveillance data cannot accurately tell us how many are infected annually. Because it is difficult to distinguish between a new infection and one that has been acquired historically, in previous years.

Once HCV enters the body there is an acute phase during which the virus replicates unchecked until the body's immune system response contains its proliferation.. The acute phase can last anywhere between two weeks and six months depending upon the strength of an individual's immune system.

Following the acute phase the virus remains in the body becoming a chronic infection that can no longer be naturally cleared in 75% percent of cases.

Acute and chronic infections can cause a range of symptoms such as a jaundice, fatigue, abdominal pains, rashes, achy muscles/joints and sleep disorders. HCV generally has a detrimental affect on a personís quality of life often resulting in depression, irritability and apathy brought about by lack of energy.

In some cases HCV can lead to progressive liver disease, cirrhosis, liver cancer and end stage liver disease.

Unlike hepatitis A and hepatitis B, there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. And although we have not yet developed a universal cure for hepatitis C, there are effective anti-viral treatments. With the introduction of pegylated interferon plus ribavirin as the standard treatment in New Zealand (as of April 09), the response has improved. Different genotypes or strains of HCV respond differently to the treatment. For genotype 1, approximately 40 - 60% of patients who comply with treatment will have a sustained response(undetected virus 24 weeks after completing treatment). People with genotypes 2 or 3 on standard pegylated treatment could have a sustained response  in more than 80% of cases.


Updated May 2009


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