The number of people living with chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease is predicted to rise by more than a third in less than a decade if treatment rates don’t increase, according to UNSW-led research. The finding is one of two reports involving UNSW researchers that have been released to coincide with Hepatitis C Awareness Week. The first report, which projects the numbers of people affected by the virus, was conducted by the Commonwealth Government’s HCV Projections Working Group led by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR).
It found that at least three times as many people need to receive treatment if Australia is to decrease the numbers of those with advanced liver disease. Of more than 225,000 people who are diagnosed with hepatitis C, only 2,000 with chronic infections are receiving treatment each year.A second report by UNSW researchers is a world-first qualitative study on hepatitis C. It shows that the side effects can have such a debilitating effect on quality of life that some people choose to cease the treatment.”Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, not to mention rashes, loss of hair and flu-like symptoms are all common side effects of the treatment,” says Max Hopwood from the National Centre in HIV Social Research.”When you consider that treatment for hepatitis C lasts for either six or 12 months, many patients are affected for an extended period of time with no guarantee that a cure will result.”However, the study found a broad range of reactions to the treatment drugs, interferon and ribavirin. “Some people can barely get out of bed for months while others sail through with very few changes to their lives. The findings of this study highlight such varied responses to treatment,” Hopwood says.One of the primary areas assessed was the different ways that people cope with the side effects, particularly the mood disorders. “People used a number of coping mechanisms,” Hopwood says. “These ranged from medical strategies such as anti-depressants to personal solutions such as watching funny videos or listening to music. Some people socialized more, some less; the ways that people handled side effects were very diverse.”For more information go to www.hepcawareness.net.au (Source: National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR): UNSW: October 2006.)