Hepatitis Report Card Released for World Hepatitis Day

By Petrina Smith
Monday, 28 July, 2014

A Hepatitis Report Card released for World Hepatitis Day today shows 250,000 Australians with untreated hepatitis B or C are aged over 40 years and have reached the critical age-point where liver scarring accelerates and the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure dramatically increases.
“We dub this the ‘liver danger zone’ – where middle-age accelerates the impact of viral hepatitis on the liver,” said Professor Greg Dore from the Kirby Institute, whose analysis forms part of the Hepatitis Report Card.
“This analysis reveals that more people are living in the liver danger zone than we have in a city like Hobart. This is a major problem that’s not going away,” he said.
Compiled by Hepatitis Australia in collaboration with national organisations such as Australian Liver Association, Australian Hepatology Association, Australian Society for HIV Medicine and endorsed by the leading viral hepatitis research, professional and community organisations across Australia, the Hepatitis Report Card also reveals that:
• Hepatitis-related liver disease will claim nearly 1,000 lives this year in Australia.
• Without significant improvement in treatment rates (currently 1% per year) Australia faces escalating rates of liver disease from hepatitis C alone, including a 230% increase in liver- related deaths; 245% increase in liver cancer; and a 180% increase in liver cirrhosis by 2030.3
• Nearly three-quarters of people living with hepatitis C and more than a third of people with hepatitis B in Australia are aged over 40 years, placing them in the liver danger zone where their risk of serious liver disease is significantly increased.
• Most Australians with hepatitis are not benefiting from regular liver check-ups and appropriate treatment, with only 5% of people with hepatitis B receiving treatment and 87% not engaged in and only 1% of people with hepatitis C receiving treatment.
The Hepatitis Report Card concludes that: “Ensuring all Australians with chronic hepatitis B and C are diagnosed and undergo regular liver health checks to track their liver health is critical in preventing nearly 1,000 deaths occurring each year due to viral hepatitis. This is the first step to avert a liver disease crisis in Australia.”
Associate Professor Ben Cowie from Royal Melbourne Hospital said, “Most people don’t display symptoms until the liver is severely damaged, and there is no such thing as a healthy carrier of hepatitis B.
“It is vital for everyone with hepatitis B or C to have a regular liver check-up to assess their liver damage, and that they receive appropriate treatment, to prevent them progressing to liver cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.”
Associate Professor Amany Zekry, Chairperson of the Australian Liver Association (ALA) and liver specialist at St George Hospital, Sydney, said, ‘‘It is standard practice to check blood pressure and cholesterol in people at risk of heart attack or stroke, so why aren’t people with diagnosed chronic viral hepatitis having their liver health checked regularly?’
Hepatitis Australia has used World Hepatitis Day to present the Report Card to state, territory and federal politicians and urge investment in the health services, equipment and training needed to ensure regular liver check-ups become the standard of care for all Australians with hepatitis B and C.
“We can’t keep sticking our head in the sand and just wait for a tidal wave of liver disease. Fast, simple and minimally invasive liver tests now exist, however they remain out of reach for most people,” said CEO of Hepatitis Australia, Helen Tyrrell.
The Hepatitis Report Card found that the overwhelming majority of people living with chronic hepatitis B and hepatitis C are not engaged in care and as such do not receive regular liver check- ups. It cites low community awareness of the need for regular follow-up, high levels of stigma and discrimination, low awareness among healthcare practitioners and lack of service provision as barriers to regular liver check-ups.
The Report states that without access to regular liver health checks more and more people, particularly those who are already in the liver danger zone, will face the prospect of serious complications and early death.
“This Report Card shows that when it comes to preventing liver disease among people with hepatitis B and C we need decisive action to ensure Australia makes the ‘A grade’,” Ms Tyrrell says.
To view the World Hepatitis Day 2014 video, click here.

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