Hepatitis C

Hep C cells

Introduction

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis C 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 injection drug use. While there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection, new treatments can cure hepatitis C in more than 90 per cent of cases.

In 2015, there were a total of 10,790 notifications of newly diagnosed hepatitis C infection in Australia in 2015. It is estimated that 82% of the 227,306 people living with chronic hepatitis C were diagnosed by the end of 2015 and 22% had received antiviral therapy. Approximately 14% of people living with hepatitis C had been successfully cured of the infection. 

 

You can explore the hepatitis C data from Australia in the interactive graphs below. Click on the tabs above the graph to view hepatitis C notifications by sex, age and state.

Scroll down to read the key findings and to download the full version of the report.

Key Findings

227,306

 

There were an estimated 227,306 people living with chronic hepatitis C infection in Australia in 2015.

Pie graph

 

There were a total of 10,790 notifications of newly diagnosed hepatitis C infection in Australia in 2015, 929 (9%) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 3,442 (32%) in the non–Indigenous population, and a further 6,419 (59%) for which Indigenous status was not reported.

Line graph - decline

 

Hepatitis C notifications in Australia remain stable

The overall rate of hepatitis C notification in Australia has remained stable in the last four years (2012–15), following a 22% decline between 2006 and 2011. A similar trend has been seen in all age groups.

Needle icons

 

57% of people who inject drugs attending needle and syringe programs in 2015 had evidence of hepatitis C. 70% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survey respondents had hepatitis C.

29,070

 

At the end of 2015, an estimated 29,070 people had severe fibrosis, an estimated 17,149 people had hepatitis C related cirrhosis, and an estimated 818 deaths were attributable to chronic hepatitis C infection. Fibrosis, cirrhosis and death attributed to hepatitis C have been increasing since 2006. 

Bar graph

 

Among people living with chronic hepatitis C infection in Australia in 2015, 82% were diagnosed by the end of 2015 and 22% had received antiviral therapy. Approximately 14% of people living with hepatitis C had been successfully cured of the infection. 

People icons

 

Among people who inject drugs with prior exposure to hepatitis C, 12% reported ever receiving hepatitis C treatment and 2% had received treatment in the last 12 months, according to the Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey.

Pie graph

 

16% of respondents to the Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey reported receptive needle and syringe sharing in the past year during 2015. The re-use of needles and syringes that have been used by others is a major risk factor for the transmission of hepatitis C.

Interpretation

Hepatitis C diagnoses have remained stable over the past four years, after declines between 2006 and 2011. The primary route of transmission is sharing injecting equipment, a practice that primarily starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, and as such trends in the rate of diagnoses in those aged less than 25 years can be interpreted as a surrogate for the incidence of hepatitis C infection. Under this assumption, it appears that there has been no further reduction in hepatitis C transmission since 2011. There has also been no change in rates of receptive needle and syringe sharing in the same period, highlighting the need for enhanced focus on prevention efforts.