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45,000 New Zealanders live with hepatitis C: health official

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WELLINGTON: JULY 26 – Around 45,000 New Zealanders are living with hepatitis C. However, due to symptoms often not appearing for many years, half of them may be unaware they have it, a health official said ahead of World Hepatitis Day which falls this Wednesday.

Pop-up hepatitis C testing clinics will be set up across New Zealand on World Hepatitis Day to make it quick and easy for at-risk Kiwis to get tested for the virus, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said in a statement on Monday.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that attacks the liver and can lead to cancer, Bloomfield said.

“The virus is a major public health threat in New Zealand. Around 1,000 people contract hepatitis C every year and 200 people die from it. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplantation in New Zealand and the second leading cause of liver cancer (behind hepatitis B),” he said.

There is now a highly effective treatment that can cure up to 98 per cent of those with chronic hepatitis C, but to achieve elimination everyone who has the virus must be diagnosed so they can receive this treatment, Bloomfield said.

At-risk people include those who have ever injected drugs, received a tattoo or body piercing using un-sterile equipment, received medical treatment in a high-risk country, or been born to a mother with hepatitis C, he said.

World Hepatitis Day will also see the launch of the National Hepatitis C Action Plan for New Zealand which focuses on awareness-raising, prevention, testing and treatment of hepatitis C, according to the Ministry of Health.

-XINHUA

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