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Most people in New Zealand with hepatitis C are infected through sharing needles while injecting drugs. Blood transfusions, tattooing, and body piercing, when the equipment isn’t sterile, are also infection risks; as is unprotected male to male sex. Higher rates of hepatitis C have been recorded in prison populations across the world.
Hepatitis C is one of several different types of hepatitis (A, B, C, D or E). It is a serious inflammation of the liver.
Hepatitis C can lead to years of ill health and reduced quality of life. Left untreated, it can cause damage to the liver that may progress to cirrhosis and, in some cases, liver cancer or liver failure and death.
Up to 50,000 New Zealanders are thought to have hepatitis C. In most cases, there are no obvious symptoms for up to 30 years after infection. Common symptoms include fatigue, nausea and pain in the stomach.
You can assess your risk at the Hepatitis Foundation. It is important to get a test right away if you think you are at risk for Hepatitis C, contact your GP or call the Hepatitis Foundation on 0800 33 20 10
There is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
Until recently, treatment for hepatitis C was successful in just over half of all cases and the medication had many unpleasant side effects. However, new government-funded antiviral drugs for hepatitis C have much higher success rates and fewer unpleasant side effects. Eligibility for free treatment is assessed based on the severity of your symptoms. Suitability for these treatments will depend on the type of hepatitis C you have.
Talk to your GP or the Hepatitis Foundation about your eligibility for treatment.