Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C cells

Introduction

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus can cause both acute and chronic infection, ranging from a mild illness that lasts a few weeks to a serious lifelong illness that may cause cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer or liver failure if left untreated. In Australia, the main route of transmission of the hepatitis C virus is through injecting drug use. While there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection, new treatments can cure hepatitis C in more than 90% of cases.

In 2017, there were a total of 10,537 new cases of hepatitis C infection in Australia. The overall rate of hepatitis C diagnoses in Australia has declined slightly by 18% between 2008 and 2017, with the rate for 2017 the lowest in the last 10 years. The hepatitis C notification rate in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population was 4.4 times as high as in the non-Indigenous population in 2017.

At the start of 2017, there were an estimated 199,220 people living with chronic hepatitis C in Australia, however this number reduced to an estimated 182,283 at the end of 2017, thanks to the availability of hepatitis C treatments. Access to these highly effective hepatitis C treatments led to a six-fold increase in the number of people receiving treatment between 2013 and 2017, with the greatest increase occurring between 2015 and 2016 (four-fold increase).

 

You can explore the hepatitis C data from Australia in the interactive graphs below.

Scroll down to read the interpretation of the data and to download the full version of the report.

What's new in 2017?

What does this mean?

There was an estimated 20% decline in deaths from hepatitis C-related liver failure and liver cancer in 2016–2017, compared with an estimated two-fold increase in the seven years before new treatments were available. There has also been a 42% decline in cirrhosis in the last 3 years. This change reflects people accessing new direct-acting antiviral regimens subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from March 2016. Since 2016, around 55,000 Australians have been treated with these highly curative therapies. 

People who inject drugs are a key population for hepatitis C treatment and prevention, and the prevalence of active hepatitis C infection among this group declined from 43% to 25% between 2015 and 2017.

However, despite these improvements, in 2017 only 15% of the estimated number of people living with hepatitis C in Australia had been treated, 29% of all liver transplants were attributable to chronic hepatitis C or hepatitis C-related hepatocellular carcinoma, and there were an estimated 540 deaths in people living with chronic hepatitis C. More strategies are needed to raise awareness about the need for testing and availability of new hepatitis C treatments to virtually eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.

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