Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that causes inflammation of the liver. There are more than 50,000 people in New Zealand with the hepatitis C virus, although it is estimated only half are currently diagnosed.
Hepatitis C can remain asymptomatic (showing no symptoms) for decades. If diagnosed early, a person is able to make lifestyle changes that may help delay the onset of serious complications, undertake treatment to cure the disease, and take steps to ensure that they do not transmit it to someone else.
If left unchecked, 20–25% of infected individuals will develop cirrhosis of the liver, 3–5% of whom will develop liver cancer each year. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation in New Zealand. Of the infected population, 50–60% remain undiagnosed and unaware of the risks associated with the disease.
Many New Zealanders have hepatitis C and don’t know it. New direct-acting antiviral drug therapies are a major advancement in the treatment of hepatitis C, with cure rates of more than 90% with 12 weeks treatment.
If you are concerned about hepatitis C call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or see your doctor or practice nurse.
Hepatitis C is spread mainly through contact with the blood of an infected person.
In New Zealand, the infection is mostly spread through sharing injecting drug-use equipment (eg, needles, syringes, filters). For more information, visit the Needle Exchange Programme.
Hepatitis C can also be passed on through:
If you have hepatitis C, you may have:
Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. A blood test will confirm whether or not you have hepatitis C. Talk to your GP about the test.
If you think you might have hepatitis C, go to your doctor for a blood test.
Hepatitis C is a notifiable disease. This means that health professionals or laboratories will inform us when someone has it. This allows us to give advice about how to stop it spreading, and check that other people who have been in close contact with the person with the illness haven’t also been infected.
Last updated 12.9.2018