TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

Hep C help at hand

Related stories:



Aoife Stokes examines the various services on offer for those suffering from hepatitis C in the Liberties area
IT IS estimated that of the 13,000 injecting drug users in Dublin, approximately 80 to 90 per cent have hepatitis C.

The hepatitis C virus is primarily a blood-borne disease that may take 20 to 30 years to develop and mainly affects the liver. It can also be transmitted sexually and may affect children born to women who are infected.

The Lindsay Tribunal is currently investigating how blood clotting agents that were known to carry a risk of transmitting hepatitis C were given to hemophiliacs in the late 1980s. As a result, hundreds of Irish women were infected with the virus.

However, of all hepatitis C cases, roughly 10 per cent occur in people who have had no identifiable exposure to the virus and between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of people who do contract the virus recover without treatment.

The symptoms of hepatitis C are varied and sometimes people infected with the virus do not have any at all. If symptoms are present, they may be very mild and flu-like. Those infected may also have jaundice, although this is quite rare. Infection by the hepatitis C virus can be determined by a simple and specific blood test. Whilst hepatitis C is a serious disease only four per cent of infected people die as a direct result of the virus.

Community Response, situated in Meath Street, is actively responding to the issue of hepatitis C infection in drug users in the south inner city. Through two facilitators, June Colgan and Debbie Mulhall, the group hold free hepatitis C and HIV awareness sessions on request from members of the public and cater for drug users and the family or friends of those with hepatitis C.

Just one year old this February, Community Response have already held five or six of these workshops, along with a range of other projects in tackling drug problems in the south inner city. Debbie Mulhall feels the hepatitis C awareness workshops are an invaluable resource for people infected with the virus.

Their sessions are aimed at covering a range of issues, from factual information on the definition of a virus and the immune system, to dispelling the myths surrounding HIV and Aids and explaining the differences between the two. All of the sessions also include information on traditional Chinese medicine.

As a result of these workshops Community Response are now launching a series of audio tapes entitled "You must ask questions". These tapes, which cost £12 and are available from the offices of Community Response on Meath St, are aimed at raising awareness in relation to liver health for people with hepatitis C. The funding of Community Response comes from the Drugs Task Force and priority is given to the population of Dublin.

Hepcats, the Liver Wellness Group, is a non-discriminatory self help and support group for people with hepatitis C. It meets in St Andrews Community Centre in Rialto at 7.30 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month. The group was formed in April 1997 as the Dublin Hepatitis C Support Group, which met once a month in Rathfarnham. In early 1999, the name of the group was changed to "Hepcats, the Liver Wellness Group", and in June 1999 they began a second monthly meeting in Rialto.

The group deals with a number of issues related with hepatitis C and offers a range of services, from advice on insurance to complementary therapies. The group often hosts talks and workshops with outside experts including Dr Dermot Kelleher, the head of Hepatology Unit in St James's Hospital and John Tindall, director of the UK based Yuan Institute, which treats hepatitis C with traditional Chinese medicine.

Hepcats is funded solely by the contributions of those who attend the meetings. They are currently seeking outside financial support to develop a drop-in centre, a helpline, a nationwide service and a website.

Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, the QI Gong group, meet in St Andrews Community Centre in Rialto at 9a.m. on Saturdays and 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. These are classes in instruction on QI Gong, a Chinese energising and visualising exercise similar to Tai Chi but more vigorous.

Both Hepcats and Community Response make those infected with the virus aware of their options regarding such forms of natural medicine and exercise and explain the benefits these may have in maintaining liver health.

Community Response can be contacted at 4549772 or at Hepcats are at