Fiona Stanley Hospital’s Liver Service helping cure hepatitis C

Dr Sam Galhenage. Picture: Matt Jelonek
Dr Sam Galhenage. Picture: Matt Jelonek

PEOPLE with hepatitis C are encouraged to take advantage of a new generation of treatments that can successfully cure the infection with minor side effects.

Fiona Stanley Hospital’s Liver Service head Sam Galhenage said the medications became available in March last year.

He said about an eighth of the hep C population nationally had been treated in one year and medications were 95 per cent effective in curing the virus, compared with the previous 40 to 80 per cent.

Of more than 400 people treated by the Liver Service since then, just one person was not cured.

The range of medications, known as direct-acting antivirals (DAA), were listed on the PBS from January 1, and a medication for people with the less common hep C genotype 4 is now available.

A Kirby Institute report showed treatment uptake by people exceeded targets set by the Australian National Hepatitis C Strategy.

A media release by pharmaceutical company MSD said the nation was on the path to achieving HCV elimination within a decade.

“In terms of total elimination, I think probably not, but we are on our way to eliminating it as a public health problem,” Dr Galhenage told the Melville Times.

“A lot of patients were waiting years for the new treatment,” he said.

Treatment periods were also shorter.

“By curing the virus people are essentially prevented from getting liver disease and needing a liver transplant.

“The most common reason for liver transplant is complications from hep C.”

“The estimated cost is more than $250 million a year to treat the complications of hep C patients including advanced scarring of the liver, treatment and transplant.”

Dr Galhenage said the hep C and alcohol were the two major focuses of the Liver Service.

People who should be tested for hep C include:

– Anyone who has previously used intravenous drugs, and has abnormal liver function tests

– Anyone who received a blood transfusion before 1990

– People who have had tattoos from a “backyard” clinic

– People whose parents have had hep C as there is a 5 per cent risk of the mother passing it to a child

– Everyone in the household of someone who is infected with hep C