When Lynne Shannholtzer went to see a specialist for ongoing fatigue, she never thought a random test at a Hepatitis Awareness Week pop-up clinic in the hospital foyer last year would solve her health issues.
“I’d been feeling really tired all the time, with dry eyes and mouth; my GP had run all sorts of tests and nothing was coming from it; hepatitis was never something I had considered a possibility.
“On my way through the hospital foyer I spotted the hepatitis C (hep C) pop-up clinic display which showed very similar symptoms to what I had been experiencing. I didn’t know a lot about hep C but given how I was feeling I thought it couldn’t hurt to get tested,” Lynne said.
Just five minutes later, the quick and painless finger-prick test gave her the answers she had been looking for.
While Lynne was shocked to learn she had hepatitis C, she felt relief to finally know what was wrong, and to learn that hep C no longer carried the life-sentence it used to.
Dr Nadja Gottfert, Taranaki DHB and HealthShare hep C community support clinician, says “Hep C is often described as the ‘silent killer’. Around 50,000 New Zealanders have it but many don’t know as the symptoms can be subtle. It can lead to liver disease and/or cancer, and if left untreated it can be deadly.”
This could certainly have been the case for Lynne had she not had that random hep C test. Her liver function tests prior to the pop-up clinic had been clear, so for Lynne’s GP, there was none of the usual indicators that it could have been hep C.
Further blood tests and a prescription for the new fully-funded medication meant just two months later Lynne was cleared of the life-threatening virus, and now has more energy than she’s had for a very long time.
“My advice to anyone who is feeling tiredness, has joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain or is in one of the high risk groups, is to talk to your GP about getting tested – it’s quick, painless and results are almost immediate,” Lynne said.
Nadja says “The most common way of getting hepatitis C is through activities related to intravenous drug use. So if you have ever injected, even if it was only once back in the day, you should get tested.
“It doesn’t matter how you got hep C, what’s important is getting cured so you can get on with your life.”
Hepatitis C background information
WHAT IS HEPATITIS C?
Hepatitis C (hep C) is a blood-borne virus that damages the liver. When the virus does not clear by itself it will slowly attack the liver leading to progressive liver damage and (if left untreated) liver cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure.
HOW IS HEP C TRANSMITTED?
Hepatitis C is transmitted by blood-to-blood activities that pierce the skin. You are at increased risk if you have:
- ever injected drugs
- ever received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment
- had a blood transfusion before 1992
- ever lived or received medical treatment in a high-risk country
- ever been in prison
- been born to a mother living with hepatitis C
- had jaundice or an abnormal liver test.
WHERE CAN PEOPLE GET TESTED FOR HEP C?
Testing can be done by any GP clinic.
HOW IS HEP C TREATED?
PHARMAC now funds Maviret, a medication taken three times-a-day for eight to 12 weeks, which has the potential to cure more than 99% of cases.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO PROMOTE HEPATITIS C AWARENESS?
In 2016, every country in the world signed up to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. Viral hepatitis kills more than 1.34 million people each year, more than HIV/AIDs or Malaria yet there is a cure for hepatitis C and a vaccine and effective treatment for hepatitis B, the 4,000 deaths each day caused by viral hepatitis are preventable.
The Taranaki Hepatitis C Action Network Group are working closely with GPs, pharmacies and other health professionals in the region to promote awareness of, testing and treatment for hep C.
27-31 July is Taranaki Hepatitis Awareness Week, with the international awareness day falling on Tuesday 28 July. The Taranaki Hepatitis C Action Network Group is working directly with community groups and healthcare professionals to increase testing and awareness throughout this week and ongoing, as well as promotion on the Taranaki DHB Facebook and Instagram pages.