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Many Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services are working in partnership with liver clinics to provide treatment services locally.
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HEPATITIS C VIRUS FREE BECAUSE OF NEW TREATMENTS
The new hepatitis C treatments have worked for a 53-year-old Wiradjuri woman who has had the virus since 1994. Cathy is now free of the hepatitis C virus and its symptoms.
Cathy was diagnosed with hepatitis C after entering a rehab, where they ran tests for hepatitis C, which returned positive results for the virus. Over the years, she has suffered from tiredness and other symptoms from living with hepatitis C. Cathy has always monitored her virus through regular blood tests, though never accessed treatment.
However since January this year, after finishing treatment with the new direct acting antivirals (DAAs), Cathy is now hepatitis C free.
“Luckily I have kids and I’ve never really been a drinker. When I moved to the Riverina, my new doctor asked why I hadn’t looked into new treatments. They said why don’t I give new treatments a go because there are new drugs coming out all the time,” Cathy said.
“My GP at the time referred me to the local hepatitis treatment clinic. They worked with me and organised my specialist appointment and had me then transferred to a closer GP at the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS).”
“I started the new treatments in 2015 because I was able to access them on compassionate grounds before they became available on the PBS, and I finished my treatment at the beginning of the year. After the full course I have no viral load in my system and now all indications are that I’m cured.”
Cathy contracted hepatitis C from sharing injecting equipment like needles. “In 1994 there were no needle and syringe programs,” she said.
“I’m clear now and still using but I’m not sharing and there’s no need to nowadays with the programs that are about. I was lucky I only got hepatitis C and not HIV because we would share needles, sharpening them on a matchbox. That’s what you did back then.”
Cathy didn’t have many side effects from the new treatments. She was put on Viekira Pak and at the beginning of the course, she had diarrhoea and headaches for the first couple of days which then went away.
“My body got used to the treatments and the only real side effect that I had until the end of the treatment was sun sensitivity. Other than that, things tasted a little different but that cleared up too,” she said.
While she didn’t let hepatitis C rule her life, she is relieved to be free of the exhaustion it caused.
“I didn’t focus on hepatitis C but now I’m not exhausted anymore and don’t need to worry so much about it,” she said.
“I’d advise anyone who might be at risk of getting the virus to 100 percent check it out and get tested; it’s not scary and only a simple blood test. Then I’d say try the new treatments. If one drug doesn’t suit you, another one will.”
Cathy is thankful to her AMS for the support she’s received since moving to the Riverina and for helping her during the new treatments.
“They’ve been really supportive,” she said.
Cathy would eventually like to work in the health field and study at TAFE. At present, she is focused on getting herself and her family more settled.
The direct acting antivirals have been available on the PBS since 1 March 2016. Anyone over 18 years living in Australia who has a Healthcare Card can access the new treatments. There are no restrictions, such as if you’re injecting drugs or have liver damage.
The DAAs are a breakthrough in treating Hepatitis C because they can cure up to 95% of people who take them. The treatments are tablets, and there is no need for injections. The treatment lasts, in most cases, for 12 weeks.
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LOW SIDE EFFECTS, NEW HOPE OF CURE
A 46-year-old Kamilaroi woman living in north western NSW is finding hope for a cure for her hepatitis C in the new treatments available in Australia since 1 March 2016.
Kerri is into her fifth week of the new treatments and side effects have been minimal.
“I’ve had a few headaches and a little bit of skin irritation but the side effects are different for everyone,” Kerri said.
“I’d say give the new treatments a go and don’t give up. Stay off the grog if you’re drinking and get the new treatments done,” Kerri said.
The new treatments are called DAAs (direct acting antivirals) and you can find out about them by talking to your doctor, nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker at your Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) or GP clinic.
The DAAs are a breakthrough in treating hepatitis C because they can cure up to 95% of people who take them. The treatments are tablets and there are no injections. The treatment lasts, in most cases, for 12 weeks.
“I’ve always got hope,” Kerri said. “Hepatitis C can happen to anyone and these new treatments offer hope of a cure.”
When she was first diagnosed, Kerri didn’t know she had hepatitis C. She was in Tamworth visiting friends and also had sorry business. She’d had a drink and returned home to rest and became so sick that her organs began to shut down. Kerri was around 38 at the time.
“I didn’t know I was so sick but they flew me straight to Sydney and put me in an induced coma. They didn’t think I’d make it,” Kerri said.
“When I recovered they told me I had hepatitis C and I was very shocked. I’m an alcoholic and just thought it was grog sickness. I don’t know where I contracted it but I did get backyard tattoos when I was younger, and I also used for a while when I was about 20 years old.”
“I wouldn’t recommend anyone getting backyard tattoos or sharing needles.”
Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a person infected with the hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone else. Some ways this can happen is through sharing equipment used to inject drugs or sharing equipment used for backyard tattooing.
Kerri has learned to live with hepatitis C.
“I have a good attitude to hepatitis C. Generally it doesn’t worry me and I don’t worry it,” Kerri said.
“I’ve also recovered from cervical cancer and my attitude is ‘don’t sit in a corner and worry about it. Get on with your life’. I look at life differently now, especially now I’m off the grog. I have three grandkids to look after and they keep me busy,” Kerri said.
Kerri found out about the DAAs through her Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service.
“They’ve been really supportive,” Kerri said.
“In August I’ll have my bloods checked again and I’m hoping my platelets (a part of the blood that helps to stop bleeding) are good.”
She said it’s important to get tested for hepatitis C and to learn all you can about it.
“I knew about hepatitis A, B, C but didn’t know about all the different strains of hep C. No-one told me anything about it when I was first diagnosed and you need to get all the information you can.”
People who think they might have hep C can get tested by a doctor at the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service or GP clinic. Your doctor can also help you find out more about the new hepatitis C treatments, or call the Hepatitis Infoline 1800 803 990.
Anyone over 18 years and living in Australia who has a Healthcare Card can access the new treatments. There are no restrictions on access, so you can still get treated if you are injecting drugs or have liver damage.
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BREAKTHROUGH HEP C TREATMENT AFTER 20 YEARS
After 20 years of living with Hepatitis C, 47 year-old Sydney based Aboriginal man Toby has recently begun new treatments which offer a cure for most people.
With few side effects, the new direct acting antivirals (DAAs) are available and affordable to anyone over 18 years with a Medicare card. For Toby, there have been no problems or negative side effects from the new medicine.
Toby found out that he had hep C after being tested during an admission to hospital for problems related to drug use, and says he contracted hep C from a friend.
Even though Toby says he doesn’t feel that having hep C made a big impact on his physical health, he does say that it impacted him mentally, and he is happy to now be receiving treatment.
“It (having hep C), played with my head a bit, but that’s all,” he says.
“I did a lot of damage to my health with drugs and I’m just starting on the hep C treatment now. I’m about half way through, two months to go, it’s been really good.”
“The medicine’s been excellent,” says Toby, “no side effects at all. I haven’t had any problems.”
Toby says he found out about the new treatments from people at the Kirketon Road Centre in inner Sydney, and encourages others to get tested and treated for hep C.
“I think it’s all important to get tested, because who wants it (hep C)?” he says.
“I’d encourage other people to ask about this treatment, I’d say you’d be silly to miss the opportunity for treating hep C.”
The DAAs have been available on the PBS since 1 March 2016. Anyone living in Australia who has a Healthcare Card can access the new treatments. There are no restrictions, so you can access the treatment even if you are injecting drugs or have liver damage.
The DAAs are a breakthrough in treating Hepatitis C because they can cure up to 95% or more of people who take them. The treatments are given via tablet form with no need for injections. The treatment lasts, in most cases, for 8 - 12 weeks.
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Toby's Story (WORD) (.docx| 15.8kb)
Toby's Story (PDF) (.pdf| 32.5kb)
For more information on the new treatments talk to your doctor, your AMS or call the Hepatitis Infoline 1800 803 990.
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