Hep C treatment offers gateway to a new life

Anglicare’s Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) is a non-judgmental, confidential and anonymous service that provides Tasmanians who use drugs with safe access to sterile equipment, and information on treatment and additional support options, on request.

Operating since 1993, the service plays a vital role in improving public health in Tasmania by preventing the spread of infections, and has been shown to change the lives of individuals and their families.

The team is particularly excited to share that final arrangements are being put in place for free Hepatitis C testing at Anglicare’s office at 18 Watchorn Street in central Hobart. The testing will be carried out by a health professional; everyone will be welcome and appointments won’t be necessary. We hope that this service may be extended to other NSP locations around Tasmania in the future – but in the meantime, you can also arrange a test through your GP or local Hepatitis Clinic.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis (‘Hep’) C is a virus that is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. This can occur if injecting equipment is shared or you get a tattoo done with equipment that hasn’t been sterilised, but it’s important to understand that any blood-to-blood contact carries the risk of transmission.  The condition can lead to liver inflammation, liver failure and liver cancer:  symptoms can take some time to show up for some people, so the earlier the virus is detected and treated the better.

NSP Team Leader Emily Ebdon says it’s an exciting time for people who may have been living with Hep C for many years to get tested, clear the virus and access additional support if they want it.

“Some people may not be aware that they carry Hep C or that a relatively new treatment and cure is available here in Tasmania,” she said. “The new treatment has a 95 per cent success rate and minimal side effects, compared to previous treatments. All a person needs to do is take one tablet a day for between 8 – 12 weeks and end of treatment testing will confirm that the virus has been successfully treated.”

The NSP can refer people with more complex needs to Anglicare’s Hepatitis Prevention Program (HPP).

Hepatitis Prevention Worker Tammy Townsend (pictured above) explains that the HPP is here to keep people well, remove the stigma associated with Hep C and get people the support that they need.

“It’s very common for the people I work with to have experienced trauma in their lives, have other medical issues, or need help with housing and finding a job, and we can refer people through to a whole range of support services offered by Anglicare and government departments,” she says.

“We’re finding that the COVID- 19 pandemic is making people think about their health more carefully, which is a good thing – making now the perfect time to reach out for support. Our service is free and confidential and we can still offer face-to-face sessions despite coronavirus restrictions.”

What are the symptoms of Hep C?

Everyone experiences Hep C differently, and symptoms can vary.  Hepatitis Australia says that if you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • fatigue and sleep problems
  • aches, pains and fevers
  • mood swings, anxiety and depression
  • feeling sick, poor appetite and indigestion
  • skin rashes and itchy skin
  • dry eyes
  • dry mouth and mouth ulcers
  • diabetes.

Sally’s story

Sally* is in her 60s and when she met the NSP team they discovered that alongside carrying hepatitis, she was experiencing anxiety, depression and a range of physical health problems. She felt isolated and frustrated: “it was all too hard.”

Sally was connected with Tammy and they worked together on goal-setting across several areas.  She was referred to Oral Health Tasmania for dental work, accessed a washing machine through the No Interest Loans Scheme and now has an aged care package that includes domestic support.

“Sally’s confidence has improved and she has plans for the future,” Tammy is very pleased to report. “Her hepatitis has been treated, she has taken charge of her finances, decluttered her unit and planted a garden – and says she feels as though a weight has been lifted.”

*not her real name

It’s important to remember that the only way to confirm whether you have the virus or not, is to be tested. No matter which part of Tasmania you live in, please contact Anglicare’s Needle and Syringe Program on 1800 243 232 to find out how we can support you or someone you know to get and stay well.

 

PHOTO:  Anglicare Tasmania’s Hepatitis Prevention Worker, Tammy Townsend

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