A Strategy for the Detection and Management of Hepatitis C in Australia

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In response to the significant public health concerns surrounding hepatitis C infection in Australia, the Commonwealth, States and Territories agreed on a nation coordinated approach towards the management of this disease. As a result, the Nation Hepatitis C Action Plan was developed and endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council in October 1994. The Action Plan recommended a series of major initiatives to be undertaken to reduce transmission of hepatitis C and to minimise the personal and social impact for those already infected; one of the major recommendations was for the NHMRC to develop guidelines on detection and management of hepatitis C in Australia.

This report provides an updated commentary on issues such as the transmission of hepatitis C in Australia, and makes recommendations on the following: protocols for laboratory testing, including polymerase chain reaction tests (PCR) and ribonucleic (RNA ) tests; public health screening; clinical indications for testing; treatment protocols and options; and guidelines for general practitioners.

There is an urgent need for this report and associated guidelines for the management of people affected by hepatitis C. The Working Party sought the most up-to-date information about this disease to provide accurate information to providers, carers and people affected by hepatitis C. Knowledge and understanding about hepatitis C is developing rapidly, and this should be borne in mind by readers of this document.

In preparing this report, the Working Party addressed several contentious issues, particularly the availability of interferon - the only specific treatment for use in Australia for chronic hepatitis C. The long-term benefits and side effects of interferon for the treatment of hepatitis C have yet to be established and the short-term side effects can be significant for some patients. The efficacy of interferon is still being assessed through the National Interferon Data Base which began in October 1994. Nevertheless the Working Party acknowledges the restrictions on access to current treatment and, on the basis of scientific evidence, has recommended that the criteria for interferon treatment under section 100 of the National Health Act 1953 be revised and broadened.

The guidelines in this report should lead to more effective pre- and post-test counselling and appropriate referrals to specialist services.

Please note: This publication was rescinded on 22 July 2002

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