Hepatitis C is spreading fast, but there are ways to protect yourself.
Hepatitis C is the most reported infectious disease over the last 10 years in Australia, with an estimated 16,000 new infections every year. There are estimated to be approximately 242,000 people with hepatitis C in Australia, but more recently a survey indicated that this figure could be as high 433,000. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to contract hepatitis C compared with non-Indigenous people.
Indigenous people are one of the three population groups most at risk; the other two are people in the prison system and injecting drug users. This problem is compounded when it’s taken into account that Indigenous Australians are about 10 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians, with about 19 per cent of all inmates being Indigenous. Further to this, there are high rates of injecting drug use in the prison population, and rates of injecting drug use have also risen in the Indigenous community.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The liver is a vital body organ that can cause serious illness and even death if it doesn’t work properly.
There are several different viruses that cause hepatitis, including hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. All these viruses cause similar problems but are spread in different ways. So the ways to prevent people from getting the virus are different too. Alcohol, chemicals, drugs and viruses can all cause hepatitis. It can also be caused by a viral infection.
The hepatitis C virus was first identified in 1989. It’s now estimated that about three hundred million people worldwide have been infected with the virus.
How is hepatitis C spread?
The hepatitis C virus is present in the blood of an infected person. If infected blood enters another person’s blood stream, they may get the virus.
The most common way people can get hepatitis C in Australia is by sharing needles, syringes and spoons.
Hepatitis C can also be spread by:
- Using tattooing or body piercing equipment that have not been properly cleaned and sterilised
- Sharing toothbrushes or razor blades
- One person’s blood coming into contact with open cuts on another person
How can I avoid getting hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. But there are things you can do to protect yourself, such as:
Don’t share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, nail files or nail scissors
If you’re getting a tattoo or body piercing, always make sure that any instrument used has been cleaned and sterilised first
Wear single-use gloves if you give someone first aid or clean up blood or body fluids.
Use condoms every time you have sex.
Is there a treatment?
A new treatment is now available which can cure hepatitis C in up to 50 to 80 per cent of people.
To find out more, or to get involved in National Hepatitis C Awareness Week, head to www.hepcvic.org.au