Of the estimated 160000 Australians currently infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), over one-third are women and very few have received clinical treatment, with most managing their illness in non-specialist settings. Little is known about the experiences of women living with HCV in the general community. The present study provides the results from the first comprehensive social survey of Australian women's experiences of living with HCV.
In 2000, a questionnaire was administered to a largely non-clinical sample of women with HCV (n = 462) living in the state of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, Australia. The questionnaire was self-administered with a return rate of 75%. The mean age was 35 years and 83% were 'current' or 'past' injecting drug users. The mean time since diagnosis was 4.6 years (SD = 4.0) and the mean time since infection was 10.5 years (SD = 8.2).
Fifty-eight percent of women reported experiencing symptoms related to their HCV, the most common being tiredness (78%) and nausea (44%). Of the sample, 56% currently saw a doctor for their HCV, and while 52% had ever been referred to a specialist, only 17% of the total sample had ever begun interferon-based combination or monotherapy. Forty-eight percent of women reported experiencing less favorable treatment by a health professional because of their HCV. Age-related self-assessed health status was significantly lower than Australian norms, as were SF-12 physical and mental health scores. The SF-12 physical and mental health scores were highly correlated, indicating a significant physical and mental health burden associated with HCV.
The social, physical and mental health needs of women living with HCV are considerable. Most women had not accessed specialist treatment and the response of the primary health care system to HCV-related women's health issues requires improvement.