WDHB's prison-based hepatitis C clinic running smoothly
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Four prisoners are currently being treated for hepatitis C through the Outpatients clinic the Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) established at Whanganui Prison in February.
 
And those four are among 15 Whanganui residents being treated for the disease by the WDHB’s Outpatients Department.
 
Establishing a clinic at Whanganui Prison was the brainchild of a WDHB nurse who, aware of similar clinics in prisons, thought it made sense for Outpatients to go to the prison rather than “the prison come to Outpatients”.
 
Director of Nursing Sandy Blake says lockdowns and other issues which often resulted in cancelled appointments made it difficult to provide the regular monthly clinics hepatitis C patients require.  “So to go out there was the sensible solution”, she says.
 
Caught through blood-to-blood contact, hepatitis C is prevalent among intravenous drug users and those with tattoos and piercings.
 
“It’s when new prisoners are screened for a variety of diseases and conditions that staff pick up who has it, and very often the prisoners concerned are unaware they do,” Mrs Blake says.
 
“Hepatitis C can lie dormant for decades quietly damaging the liver without the sufferer knowing it.
 
“Often it’s not until they suffer symptoms such as tiredness or food upsets that they go to the doctor and are diagnosed.”
 
If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
 
The treatment for the disease involves a once weekly injection and tablets taken twice a day for between 24 and 48 weeks.
 
Because it’s a ‘tough’ treatment with unpleasant side effects the WDHB nurse works closely with the prison’s nurses to advise them as to what those side effects are and how they can help the prisoners deal with them.
 
Anyone who might be concerned that their lifestyle could have left them with hepatitis C is encouraged to see their GP for a check as soon as possible.