There are so many different health weeks and days now that you can be forgiven for not really paying much attention to them.

Although many of them are fundraisers, some are purely designed to draw attention to important health issues that often receive little attention.

An issue that is often forgotten in our community is hepatitis C.

The First National Hepatitis C Awareness Week is currently in full swing and is aimed at raising awareness of the recent significant improvements in hepatitis C pharmaceutical treatment.

The hepatitis C virus is passed on via blood-to-blood contact, with injecting drug use the main mode of transmission in Australia.

It is estimated that of the 240,000 Australians who have been exposed to hepatitis C, more than 30,000 are currently eligible for treatment under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, yet fewer than 2,000 people access treatment each year.

Antiviral treatment has improved, with 50-80 percent of people on treatment (pegylated interferon and ribavirin) clearing the infection.

Importantly, there have also been improvements in the management of treatment side effects, with 80 percent of people on treatment managing the side effects and completing treatment.

Access to treatment has also improved. Not everyone with hepatitis C will need treatment and there are eligibility criteria for government-subsidised treatment to determine those most in need due to progressive liver damage.

People co-infected with HIV are also eligible for treatment and should speak to their doctor for more information.

People who are on methadone or currently using drugs are not restricted from accessing hepatitis C treatment.

However, compliance to the treatment regimen over a significant period of time (six to 12 months depending on genotype and/ or degree of liver damage) is important to gain the best chance of viral clearance, and people need to consider whether their drug and alcohol use is stable enough to support treatment compliance or whether they need to postpone treatment to a period of greater stability in their lives.

A trial for the treatment of newly acquired hepatitis C is also under way. This trial enables people who have recently become infected to access interferon treatment without the need for a liver biopsy.

Previous research has found that treating hepatitis C with interferon alone for six months in the early stages of infection can be very effective.

If you would like to know more about treatment options or any other information on hepatitis C, call the NSW Hep C Helpline on 9332 1599 (Sydney callers) or 1800 803 990 (other NSW callers), or visit www.hepatitisc.org.au

Alternatively, speak to your GP or other healthcare worker. If you would like more information on accessing treatment for newly acquired hepatitis C infection, contact Barbara Yeung on 9385 0900.

Remember: if you do not want any negative consequences, do not use drugs and, no matter how many times you have used a substance, never be blas?

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