Thousands of hepatitis patients in 'critical' danger zone

30 July, 2014

Half of all Australians living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C have entered the 'liver danger zone' and face an increased threat of serious liver disease, according to new analysis.

New research has showed 250,000 Australians with untreated hepatitis B or C are aged over 40 years have reached the critical age-point where liver scarring accelerates and the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure dramatically increases.

"We dub this the 'liver danger zone' – where middle-age accelerates the impact of viral hepatitis on the liver," said Professor Greg Dore from the Kirby Institute in Sydney.

Professor Dore's analysis forms part of a Hepatitis Report Card released to coincide with NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week (28 July – 3 August), which commenced on World Hepatitis Day.

In NSW alone an estimated 95,000 people are in the 'liver danger zone'.

"This analysis reveals that the number of people in NSW in the liver danger zone is roughly one third of the entire population of Wollongong," Professor Dore said.

Hepatitis NSW CEO, Stuart Loveday said it was essential people living with either hepatitis B or C have regular liver check-ups.

"This will help (them), in consultation with their health professionals, to determine when treatment is right for them," he said.

"Addressing the challenges presented by the Report Card will require an ongoing and enhanced partnership between government, clinicians, non-government organisations and of course the communities affected by hepatitis B and C."

Key findings from the Hepatitis Report Card:

  • Hepatitis-related liver disease will claim nearly 1000 lives this year in Australia.
  • Without significant improvement in treatment rates Australia faces escalating rates of liver disease from hepatitis C alone, including a 230 per cent increase in liver-related deaths; 245 per cent increase in liver cancer; and a 180 per cent increase in liver cirrhosis by 2030.
  • Nearly three-quarters of people living with hepatitis C and more than a third of people with hepatitis B in Australia are aged over 40 years, placing them in the liver danger zone where their risk of serious liver disease is significantly increased.
  • Most Australians with hepatitis are not benefiting from regular liver check-ups and appropriate treatment, with only 5 per cent of people with hepatitis B receiving treatment and 87 per cent not engaged in care, and only 1 per cent of people with hepatitis C receiving treatment.

Government committed to ongoing prevention and treatment

Associate Professor Ben Cowie from Royal Melbourne Hospital said: "Most people don't display symptoms until the liver is severely damaged, and there is no such thing as a healthy carrier of hepatitis B."

Dr Kerry Chant, Chief Health Officer at the NSW Ministry of Health said: "NSW Health is committed to strengthening our ongoing prevention, treatment and care response, acknowledging that many of those who are affected by hepatitis B and C are among the most vulnerable people in our society.

"Effective hepatitis C treatments are available, and recent breakthroughs mean that even safer and more effective treatments are likely to be available soon.

"NSW Health is committed to ensure that our clinical services are accessible, patient focused and ready to meet the demand for when these new treatments become available."

Liver Check-Up