Dubbo and district residents who have never considered that they might have Hepatitis B are being encouraged to get tested.
Dubbo Community Health liver cancer clinic coordinator, Gail Snelgar, knows “some people (with Hepatitis B) will have no symptoms at all”.
“Next time your doctor says he’s going to send you to get a blood test, if you haven’t been tested ask him to test you for Hepatitis B,” she said at a two-day course in Dubbo.
Data released by the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) reveals 722 people are living with chronic Hepatitis B in Dubbo and district where the “treatment uptake” is a low 1.1 per cent.
ASHM also reports that the Western NSW Primary Health Network’s (PHN) Hepatitis B treatment uptake of 1.3 per cent is the second lowest of all PHNs in Australia.
Ms Snelgar, a speaker at the ASHM course called Hepatitis B Nursing Management and Care, has blamed stigma and lack of knowledge for the worrying data.
“There’s a lot of stigma attached to having hepatitis,” she said.
“That’s one of our biggest problems in getting people to come in.
“We need to monitor them twice a year.
“One of the major reasons for monitoring Hepatitis B is that it can actually lead to liver cancer.
“Patients can also end up with cirrhosis of the liver and consequently a lot of health issues.”
Ms Snelgar said the community had preconceived ideas about people with Hepatitis B, transmitted by body fluids but preventable through vaccination.
“People think it’s just because of drug use or unprotected sex but there is a range of reasons,” she said.
“It can be transmitted from mother to baby, during tattooing, piercing, sporting events and when people go overseas to have nips and tucks.”
Ms Snelgar said the community needed to know that while there was no cure for Hepatitis B, it could be “treated and managed”.
The course, funded by NSW Health, brought 17 nurses from the western region up to speed on Hepatitis B.
Dubbo Hospital nurse Richelle Foster called it “fabulous”. “I work in general medicine and have looked after people with Hepatitis B,” she said.
“I have gained so much more knowledge from being here for the past two days. I am going to go back and teach my work colleagues.”
Another Dubbo Hospital nurse, Liz Carter, said she had “learned so much”. “We will be able to care and look after our patients appropriately,” she said.