A new piece of medical equipment means people in the top of the South Island can have their liver checked in the community without needing a biopsy.
Marlborough Primary Health hepatitis C clinical nurse specialist Bin Heaphy said the FibroScan machine offered a non-invasive screening test that replaced what would have otherwise required a medical procedure in a hospital.
“It’s painless, it’s simple and it’s over and done with quickly.”
The technology is called transient elastography and detects changes in the liver tissue using a procedure similar to that of an ultrasound.
It means people diagnosed with hepatitis C can be scanned to check the amount of scarring, or fibrosis of their liver, which determined the type of treatment required.
Heaphy said it was the first community-based FibroScan in the South Island and would make a big difference to those in the top of the south.
In her newly established role, Heaphy travelled between Nelson and Marlborough to see people living with hepatitis C.
She said 95 per cent of people living with the virus could now be cured with antiviral medication. When she first started working in the field 20 years ago, the cure rate was between 11 to 30 per cent.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which causes inflammation of the liver. There are more than 50,000 people in New Zealand living with hepatitis C, although it is estimated only half are currently diagnosed.
Heaphy said the virus was often called the “silent epidemic” as people could not have any symptoms until 20 or 30 years after they had contracted it.
Heaphy said the figures showed there were around 1000 people in Nelson and 400 people in Marlborough living with hepatitis C.
Up until now, they had received treatment in hospital, but the scanner made it possible for them to be looked after by GPs in primary practice.
A blood test was used to determine when someone had hepatitis C and the FibroScan determined the extent of the liver scarring so the appropriate cause of treatment could be recommended.
Nelson Bays Primary Health acting general manager of health services Karen Winton said the new scanner transformed the delivery of hepatitis C treatment and meant patients were able to get care earlier.
“It is really great to see the improvements in technology and medication which mean better outcomes for our community.
“It’s all about that healthcare closer to home.”
The machine was funded by the Care Foundation on behalf of the Darcy Christopher Trust Fund.