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Hepatitis B and C are infections that cannot be put on hold. In Australia, 1 in 5 people living with hepatitis C, and 1 in 4 people living with hepatitis B, don't know they have it. The consequences can be fatal.
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The hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses are distinct and separate viruses that infect and damage the liver. If nothing is done, these infections lead to scars forming on the liver. This is called fibrosis. Without treatment, the scars can increase to the point that the liver can no longer repair itself. This leads to liver failure. It can also lead to liver cancer. Both can be fatal.
Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are silent diseases that can go for decades without symptoms. Even where there are symptoms, they can be confused with other ailments. The only way to know if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C is with blood tests. These tests are not included in routine blood tests. You need to ask your GP specifically for these tests.
About 220,000 people in Australia have chronic hepatitis B and 120,000 have chronic hepatitis C.
In Australia, 25 out of every 100 people with hepatitis B don’t know they have the infection.
Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood and sexual fluids. Many acquire it as newborns during the birthing process or as young children in households where people have chronic hepatitis B. It is found in every country, but is more common in East and South-East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands and Australian Aboriginal communities. (See map) Most people living hepatitis B got it from their mothers during birth.
There is a safe and effective vaccine for hepatitis B.
In Australia, 20 out of every 100 people with hepatitis C don’t know they have the infection.
Hepatitis C virus is exclusively a blood borne infection. It is only transmitted when blood from someone who has the virus enters the bloodstream of another person. It is not sexually transmitted. If you have ever had an unsterile tattoo or piercing, been to prison, or shared injecting drug equipment, it is a good idea to get tested for this virus. People from regions of high prevalence may also be at higher risk of hepatitis C. (See map)
There is no vaccination for the hepatitis C virus.
There is currently no cure for hepatitis B but there are effective drugs to help suppress the virus. Medication is not needed at every stage of the illness. Six-monthly check-ups by a doctor will ensure that treatment can start when needed.
Hepatitis B treatment is highly affordable for people with a Medicare Card.
If you have not been infected by hepatitis B before, a safe and effective vaccination will prevent infection for most people. If you are among the small number of people for whom hepatitis B vaccine doesn’t work, protect yourself by practising safe sex and following safe practices around blood and body fluids. (More details)
Hepatitis C infection can be cured in 8 or 12 weeks with tablets. The treatment is highly affordable for people with a Medicare Card.
Hepatitis C treatment can by prescribed by general practitioners, nurse practitioners and specialists. In South Australia, the easiest way to get started is to call the Viral Hepatitis Nurse in your metro region. (Contact details)
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