People with hepatitis C are at risk of progressive liver disease. Lifestyle risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing this disease include heavy alcohol intake and fatty liver disease (associated with obesity). However, hepatitis C is significantly different to other chronic diseases in that many people—possibly 50 to 80 per cent of those treated—are cured. But while the number of people on treatment remains as low as it is, hepatitis C remains a chronic disease for the majority.61
People with hepatitis C therefore need to understand the information and support services available to assist them so they can make appropriate lifestyle choices and reduce the burden associated with infection as well as improve their health outcomes. This includes obtaining information about hepatitis C and remaining up-to-date on new information in areas such as diagnosis, development of symptoms, management of symptoms, and the possibilities for preventing or slowing disease progression through self-management strategies and antiviral treatment.
Peer-based drug user organisations and hepatitis organisations and other community-based services have the expertise and capacity to provide hepatitis C information and support in areas such as validating symptom experiences and making decisions about hepatitis C management and treatment. However, awareness of these services remains limited among both people with hepatitis C and health professionals. Disclosure of hepatitis C status is an impediment to accessing support, because it can result in social isolation and discrimination and often requires people to disclose participation in criminalised behaviours such as injecting drug use. Previous experiences of stigma, discrimination and/or racism can therefore become a barrier to accessing information, education, diagnosis support and management.
Priority actions in health maintenance, care and support for people with chronic hepatitis C
- Undertake education about hepatitis C for the health, community and welfare sectors to engender a supportive social environment for people with hepatitis C and their families.
- Provide accurate and appropriate information for people with, or at risk of, hepatitis C and their support network, on the impact of infection, natural history of the infection, self-management options (including how to reduce the risk of developing liver disease and how to access specialist services), and how to exercise legal and health rights.
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61 Bradford D, Hoy J & Matthews G (eds), HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs: a guide for
primary care, Australian Society for HIV Medicine, Sydney.