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 2016, there were a total of 11,949 new cases of hepatitis C infection in Australia. The overall rate of hepatitis C diagnoses in Australia has remained stable between 2012 and 2015, however increased by 12% in the past year.

At the start of 2016, there were 227,306 people living with chronic hepatitis C. An estimated 30,434 people were cured of hepatitis C in 2016, following the introduction of new direct-acting antiviral treatment through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Between 2007 and 2015, there was a 61% increase in the estimated number of people living with chronic hepatitis C who had severe fibrosis, and a 79% increase in the estimated number of people with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis. However, in 2016, for the first time in ten years, the estimated number of people in Australia living with hepatitis C who had severe liver disease because of their infection reduced by 10% (severe fibrosis) and by 38% (hepatitis C-related cirrhosis).

By the end of 2016, more than 120,000 people with hepatitis C were yet to undergo assessments for treatment (including by undertaking the additional tests (RNA) required to confirm their diagnosis). Also, about a third of all liver transplants (31%) and an estimated 814 deaths were attributable to hepatitis C infection.

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 2016?

What does this mean?

The increase in the rate of notification of hepatitis C diagnoses in the last two years is likely to relate to increased testing in the context of new hepatitis C treatments. The stable rate of hepatitis C diagnoses in people under 25 years of age suggests that transmission of this infection is stable in the overall population. There has also been no decrease in the rates of receptive syringe sharing in the same period, highlighting the need for enhanced focus on prevention efforts.

The number of people receiving hepatitis C treatment increased dramatically in 2016, including among people who inject drugs. This change reflects that more people are accessing new highly effective treatments subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from March 2016. Based on mathematical modelling estimates, the number of people with severe fibrosis and hepatitis C-related cirrhosis fell for the first time in 10 years, in line with the rise in treatment uptake, particularly among people with more advanced liver disease (hepatitis C-related cirrhosis). However, morbidity as a result of hepatitis C is still substantial, with a third of all liver transplants and a high number of deaths attributable to hepatitis C infection, highlighting the importance of maintaining or increasing the current levels of treatment to virtually eliminate hepatitis C by 2030

Trends in hepatitis C notifications among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are very different from those among non-Indigenous people. This difference could be attributed to different rates of injecting risk behaviours, or disproportionate incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (a setting where hepatitis C screening often occurs on entry). There is a need for an increased focus on culturally appropriate harm reduction strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both community and prison settings.

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