Ex-drug addicts warned on infection

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 June, 2010, 12:00am

Abusing intravenous drugs makes people 2,000 times more likely to suffer from chronic hepatitis C - and the risk can persist after they quit their drug habit - according to a project that helps former drug addicts.

Statistics from the Centre for Health Protection show that 485 out of 1,096 drug abusers who used syringes were carriers of the hepatitis C virus - a ratio 2,110 times higher than normal. About half of all drug users who used syringes suffered from chronic hepatitis C, the centre reported.

The findings are echoed by New Life New Liver, a joint programme launched last year by Caritas Lok Heep Club and Chinese University's Centre for Liver Health to support former drug addicts who have the liver disease.

Out of 100 former drug addicts and their family members who participated in the project, 48 were confirmed with hepatitis C, convenor Dr Henry Chan Lik-yuen said.

Participants were first given preliminary-level screening for hepatitis C. Those who test positive will be double-checked with virological and imaging tests at the Centre for Liver Health, Prince of Wales Hospital. Patients confirmed with the disease and requiring treatment will be referred to speciality clinics.

Even after addicts quit their drug habit, they still live with the threat of hepatitis C, Chan warned. Most patients do not show any symptoms until complications such as cirrhosis or cancer develop. Thus, it is important for former drug users to do health checks and see if they are carriers, he added.

Lee Yuk-nam, who abused drugs for 10 years until he quit when he was 23, has recovered from hepatitis C.

'I did not know I caught the disease. I just felt tired very often,' he said yesterday. He received injections every week to treat the hepatitis C, enduring side effects from the treatment - fever and pain in his limbs - that were similar to the side effects he experienced while kicking his drug habit.

His wife, also a former addict, was among those referred to specialty clinics under the project. Lee urged those who had stopped abusing drugs to take tests and seek help.