Latest News 29 July 2020 | World Hepatitis Day is celebrated every year, on 28 July, to raise awareness about viral hepatitis.
For over 20 years, then Nurse Specialist and now Nurse Practitioner Jacqui Stone has treated people exposed to the hepatitis C (hep C) virus. Until last year, a cure wasn’t possible for everyone and previous treatments had many side effects.
“It’s very exciting that we now have a free treatment that in about eight weeks cures the disease with no or minimal side effects and are in a position where we can eradicate the virus from New Zealand. It’s a magical time,” says Ms Stone.
Since early last year, when the new drug Maviret became available through Pharmac, Ms Stone has treated over 100 patients in the Counties Manukau area who are now hep C free.
“The feedback has been amazing. Patients report having no or minimal side effects and feel a lot more energy. I hear people saying ‘it’s like switching the light on my life’, because the disease affected their mood and sometimes concentration. People who had to stop working could finally go back. It’s life-changing.”
“It not only benefits the patient; it benefits their families as well. One patient told me that for his family to know he was hep C free was the biggest gift of all.”
Ms Stone runs testing, screening and Healthy Liver clinics in the Counties Manukau area in places like the locality clinics, Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS), prisons, and hopes to set up more clinics and access to care in our community, including in marae, the Needle Exchange Programme in Manukau and community centres.
“We look at some of the risk factors for the liver like drinking too much alcohol or health concerns as well as screen for potential exposure to the hep c virus - like injecting drugs or intranasal drug use, or having a previous tattoo or piercing. We then offer a simple blood test and if it is positive we do a fibroscan – a scan of their liver – to see if there is any damage. If they need treatment, we start as soon as we can.”
Ms Stone says that the current challenge in order to eradicate the virus is to identify all people who may have been exposed to hep C so that they can be offered treatment. It is estimated that half the people who carry the virus don’t know they have it, as the symptoms can be subtle.
“There is still a lot of stigma. I love my work, enjoy working with my patients and being able to help them in a non-judgmental way. I make sure I give all my patients a positive experience, so that they can get the treatment and get on with their lives.”
Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact. The most common way of contracting hep C is through intravenous and intranasal drug use, but there are many other ways people can get the virus, from getting a tattoo to receiving medical treatment overseas.
Hep C is serious and if left untreated, can lead to fatal diseases such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. People who are at increased risk of having hep C should see their family doctor and ask for a blood test or go to one of our Healthy Liver clinics* so they can start the treatment as soon as possible to avoid other complications.
People are at increased risk of hep C if they have:
o injected drugs (even if it was only once);
o ever received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment;
o had a blood transfusion before 1992;
o lived or received medical treatment in a high-risk country;
o been in prison; or
o been born to a mother living with hep C.
* Every second Thursday of each month there is a clinic at CADS south (4/17 Lambie Drive, Manukau)