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Australia facing "tidal wave of liver disease": expert

English.news.cn   2014-07-28 09:45:17

SYDNEY, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Australia is facing a Hepatitis " crisis-in-waiting" with half of all Australians living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C now within the "liver danger-zone" with serious liver disease scratching at the surface, according to a new report released Monday, the World Hepatitis Day.

Australian experts have made a bold call to arms with the research showing that 250,000 Australians with untreated hepatitis B or C are over 40 years and have hit the "critical age-point " for the acceleration of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

"We dub this the 'liver danger zone' where middle-age accelerates the impact of viral hepatitis on the liver," Professor Greg Dore from the Kirby Institute in Sydney said.

Dore is part of leading Australians who on Monday released the Hepatitis Report Card for the World Hepatitis Day.

"This analysis reveals that more people are living in the liver danger zone than we have in a city like Hobart. This is a major problem that's not going away," Dore said.

The World Hepatitis Day is one of just eight "health" days backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as mandated by the World Health Assembly (WHA).

The danger, according to Associate Professor Ben Cowie from Royal Melbourne Hospital, is the creeping, silent nature of Hepatitis symptoms.

"Most people don't display symptoms until the liver is severely damaged, and there is no such thing as a healthy carrier of hepatitis B.

"It is vital for everyone with hepatitis B or C to have a regular liver check-up to assess their liver damage, and that they receive appropriate treatment, to prevent them progressing to liver cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer," he said.

The Hepatitis Report Card also warns that without a leap of funding and consequent improvement in treatment rates, currently standing at an unsustainable One percent a year, Australia is a hepatitis crisis in waiting.

There are now escalating rates of liver disease from hepatitis C alone, including a shocking 230 percent increase in liver- related deaths, 245 percent increase in liver cancer, and a 180 percent increase in liver cirrhosis by 2030.

According to professor Dore, Hepatitis-related liver disease will claim nearly 1,000 lives this year in Australia, a dangerously high representation of the population.

Some three-quarters of people living with hepatitis C -- and well above a third of people with hepatitis B -- in Australia are hitting the 40-year mark, placing them squarely in the liver danger zone.

For a rapidly ageing population, this translates into further health burdens for the population and the health system.

The Hepatitis Report Card provides a grim 15-year projection for the path of chronic hepatitis C -related deaths, liver cancer and cirrhosis in Australia.

Experts from all sectors of the hepatitis community are now backing and calling upon the Abbott government's investment in the health services here, better equipment and training to ensure regular check-ups become the "standard of care for all Australians with hepatitis B or C.

Most Australians with hepatitis aren't getting liver check-ups and appropriate treatment, with only 5 percent of people with hepatitis B receiving treatment and 87 percent not engaged in care, and only 1 percent of people with hepatitis C receiving treatment.

Hepatitis B affects more than 225,000 Australians and is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact or unprotected sexual contact. Without careful management and access to vaccination, a pregnant woman with chronic hepatitis B can transmit the virus to her baby.

Associate Professor Amany Zekry, chairperson of the Australian Liver Association (ALA) Sydney, demanded, when it is standard practice to check blood pressure and cholesterol in people at risk of heart attack or stroke, "why aren't people with diagnosed chronic viral hepatitis having their liver health checked regularly?"

"Ensuring all Australians with chronic hepatitis B and C are diagnosed and undergo regular liver health checks to track their liver health is critical in preventing nearly 1,000 deaths occurring each year due to viral hepatitis. This is the first step to avert a liver disease crisis in Australia."

The parlous state of Australian health, with heavy drinking another pressure impacting Hepatitis suffering nationally, has made hepatitis a silent and growing killer.

CEO of Hepatitis Australia Helen Tyrrell told Xinhua it is time for Australia to make a stand.

"(Australia) can't keep sticking our head in the sand and wait for a tidal wave of liver disease."

The report was released at a national hepatitis forum in Canberra.

Editor: Mioh Song
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