It's estimated 25,000 New Zealanders have undiagnosed Hepatitis C virus (HCV).
A drop-in clinic providing free, easy, five-minute finger-prick tests for the virus will be held later this month in Rotorua, to mark World Hepatitis Day on July 28.
Lakes District Health Board clinical nurse specialist Lydia White will be at the Rotorua Library from 1.30pm to 7pm the next day, July 29, to do the tests and discuss the results.
Appointments are not necessary.
There will also be information, prizes and kai, along with other health care professionals from the Regional Hepatitis Network, the wider Lakes DHB and also the Rotorua Area Primary Health Service.
White has been a nurse for 18 years specialising in gastroenterology, the digestive system, for 12 years.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver and causes inflammation and damage over time.
It is spread by blood to blood contact.
If left untreated chronic infection can progress eventually to liver failure or cancer.
"There are lots of ways people may have got Hepatitis C. We won't ask how you got it. We just want to treat people who do have it to prevent liver damage and cancer," she said.
If the finger test is positive for exposure to the virus, a further blood test is necessary to check for active Hepatitis C virus, and the team will be able to do that on the same day and send the specimen to the laboratory.
New medication to treat this virus is almost 100 per cent effective and has only a few mild side effects – if any.
White said nine out of 10 people don't report any side-effects and will only need to take the tablets for eight weeks.
"People don't need to be scared of the treatment anymore. The new treatments are completely different. It's a different ball game now."
People infected with the virus are often undiagnosed for many years because they have no symptoms until their liver goes downhill.
Although a few people do clear it themselves, most cases progress to chronic HCV which needs treatment to be cleared.
Hepatitis C risk factors
- A tattoo or body piercing with unsterile equipment
- A blood transfusion before 1992
- People who have ever injected drugs, even once
- People who have lived in or received medical treatment in a country of high prevalence and low standard of medical equipment sterilisation
- People who have been in prison
- People born to a mother with the virus