Incorrect media reporting about hepatitis

Posted 26 March, 2019
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At Hepatitis Queensland our vision is to see a Queensland free from the effects of viral hepatitis. So it alarms us when incorrect information is reported in the media, providing a further roadblock to eliminating viral hepatitis – a disease that affects many in our community and globally is responsible for 80% of liver cancers.

In a recent article by Business Insider Australia entitled Hepatitis “A, B and C can all be transmitted through oral sex” there were significant factual errors that we believe are not only misleading but contribute to stigma and discrimination and deter people from engaging in care. Factual errors include:

  • “Almost any exposure to body fluids in people who have those viruses can be infectious” – This statement is misleading when read in respect to Hepatitis A, B and C transmission risk:
    • Hepatitis A: is transmitted through faecal to oral route when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, poor personal hygiene and unprotected sexual contact.
    • Hepatitis B: is transmitted by bodily fluids (blood, semen, or vaginal fluid) of an infected person when the virus enters the blood stream of another person. Even though studies have shown minute quantities of the virus can be present in saliva, it is not considered to be in high enough levels to transmit the virus therefore oral sex remains a low risk activity for transmission of hepatitis B.
    • Hepatitis C: is transmitted through direct blood to blood contact. As it is a blood-borne virus, it can be transmitted through certain types of sexual activity where blood is present. In the case of hepatitis C, the virus is not detected in semen or vaginal fluid which places oral sex and other sexual activity on the lower risk – no risk scale.
  • It was also reported that “Neither Hepatitis B nor Hepatitis C currently has a widespread cure and both typically require long-term treatment.” This statement is incorrect.
    • In terms of hepatitis C – Not only is a curative treatment readily available in Australia it is also listed on the PBS making it affordable for patients to access. In fact, Australia remains part of a global response to viral hepatitis and are leading the way in accessibility to new medications called Direct Acting Anti-virals (DAAs). These drugs have a 95% cure rate and treatment duration is as short as 8 – 12 weeks. Following successful treatment with these medications the patient is completely cured of the virus. With positive messaging in the media and a sustained effort we have the very real opportunity to create history in Australia and eradicate hep C as a public health threat. We haven’t seen this since the days of polio eradication.
    • In terms of hepatitis B – the article is correct in stating there is no cure for hepatitis B however fails to raise awareness of a vaccine that has been available since 1982. This vaccine is part of the National Immunisation Schedule. Hepatitis B is what is known as a vaccine preventable disease which, correctly broadcast, could effectively reduce transmission and any fear over contracting the virus through risky behaviours.

Information that is untrue or misleading is very damaging and can impact some of our most vulnerable communities in quite significant ways. Instead of being a part of scare mongering why not be a part of eliminating a virus and helping people to remain safe and well.

The information we have provided above is readily available on the internet and/or by contacting a hepatitis organisation in your state or territory. We have more information on our website – www.hepqld.asn.au or feel free to contact us on our free infoline 1800 437 222.

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