News

29-02-2016

Chronic Hepatitis C is thought to affect 230 000 Australians and 10,000 new cases of Hepatitis C are diagnosed per year. The infection can go undetected for long periods of time, often causing no symptoms until significant scarring of the liver has occurred . The infection has been associated with blood transfusions before screening technology improved, intravenous drug use, sexual transmission and often unknown pathways .  Those people who were diagnosed several years ago, may not be aware of the newer treatment, the original interferon-based treatments used had significant side effects, required close monitoring  and had  much lower cure rates.

Drugs which can potentially cure Hepatitis  C will be available on government subsidy on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme ( PBS) from  1/03/2016. Direct acting antiviral treatments have been controversial because of their price, causing delay in their access  due to a prolonged negotiation process between the pharmaceutical companies and the government. The medication is taken orally, once a day for 8-12 weeks. The estimate of costs from the US reports are $1000 a tablet.

GPs will be able to prescribe the Hepatitis C treatments with a requirement of a brief consultation between the GP and the Specialist ( can be by telephone or e-mail) prior to commencing treatment to confirm the correct regime is planned for the patient. There are different treatment depending on factors such as whether you have cirrhosis, what the genotype of the virus is and whether you have had previous treatment. The patient will need to have a blood test to check viral load, viral genotype, liver and kidney function.  It will also be necessary to have a liver ultrasound and fibroscan ( check for cirrhosis) . It is possible that many Specialists and GPs unfamiliar with treating Hepatitis will not be comfortable conducting a consultation  via telephone or e-mail and may still require the patient to attend the specialist rooms for a consultation in person prior to authorizing treatment.

Consensus guidelines which have been developed between the Gastroenterological Society of Australia ( GESA) , GPs, infectious disease specialists, the Australian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine will be published online for GPs on 1/03/2016. Approved pharmacies in the community will be able to dispense the new medications.

The information sheets for prescribing are available athttp://www.pbs.gov.au/info/publication/factsheets/hep-c/frequently-asked-questions

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