Coronavirus (COVID-19, SARS-CoV 2) and viral hepatitis: sources of information

Keith Alcorn
26 March 2020

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are a fever (high temperature) and/or dry cough, shortness of breath. You do not need to have all these symptoms to be suffering from a coronavirus infection.

People with some pre-existing health conditions are more vulnerable to severe illness (pneumonia, breathing difficulties requiring hospitalisation, lung damage).

This Frequently Asked Questions guide by the National University of Australia provides up-to-date and accessible information about how the virus is passed on, symptoms of infection and the risks of serious illness.

Guidance for people with viral hepatitis or other liver diseases

Hepatitis Australia published guidance for people with viral hepatitis in consultation with the Doherty Institute, University of New South Wales on 20 March 2020, suggesting that people with viral hepatitis are not at increased risk of illness unless they have advanced liver disease or underlying health conditions:

At this stage there is no evidence to suggest people living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C, who are well are at greater risk of infection with COVID-19. However, current information suggests some people living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C who also have other conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes will likely have an increased risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19.

People who have developed advanced liver diseases (including cirrhosis) and deteriorating health as a result of hepatitis B or C should be vigilant in protecting themselves from contracting COVID-19 as they are at risk of more serious illness. This includes people who have ongoing health conditions as a result of a previous hepatitis C infection which has been cured.

People living with hepatitis B or C should use the same protective measures recommended for the general population.

NHS England advises people with chronic liver disease to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. NHS England published a list of groups of people at increased risk of illness due to underlying health conditions on 23 March 2020. The NHS England list of conditions is more detailed than those published by some other countries (e.g. US Centers for Disease Control).

Guidance for liver transplant recipients and/or people receiving immunosuppressive treatment

NHS England has identified several groups (24 March) receiving immunosuppressive treatments as at high risk of serious illness from coronavirus infection. These groups include the following potential liver disease patients:
  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection

NHS England is contacting all patients at highest risk to advise strict social isolation for at least 12 weeks.

Shielding is a measure to protect extremely vulnerable people by minimising interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. This means that those who are extremely vulnerable should not leave their homes, and within their homes should minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household.