A specialist has described new hepatitis C drugs as one of the greatest recent medical developments.

More than 200,000 people in Australia and New Zealand will soon be cured of hepatitis C, thanks to new drugs that have sparked excitement among liver specialists.

The drugs have a 90 per cent success rate for the most common form of the disease and have few, if any, side effects.

The present treatment has horrible side effects, takes up to 48 weeks to work and has a 60 per cent cure rate.

The new pills, which are taken for 12 weeks, have been approved in the US and Europe and are expected to be available in Australia and New Zealand by the end of 2014.

“It’s amazing. It is one of the greatest turnarounds in clinical medicine that we have seen in decades,” says Professor Gregory Dore of the Kirby Institute and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

Few people can tolerate the current treatment method, which involves weekly injections and daily pills, says NZ Professor Edward Gane, a speaker at the 2014 meeting of the Asian Pacific Association for the Study of Liver in Brisbane on Wednesday.

“Fewer than than two per cent of those diagnosed receive treatment each year.”

Around 220,000 people in Australia and 50,000 in NZ are living with the disease, says the Auckland City Hospital transplant specialist.

Hepatitis C mostly affects people who experimented with intravenous drugs in the `60s, `70s and early `80s and there has been a steady increase in serious liver disease as they age.

They are at increased lifelong risk of cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure or cancer.

They can also develop non-specific symptoms including extreme tiredness or lethargy.

About 90 per cent of infected Australians had been diagnosed, but the diagnosis rate in NZ was low, he said.

He urged people who believed they were at risk to see their GP for tests.

“Identifying people with hepatitis C is now of the utmost importance along with assessing their liver disease and preparing them for treatment.

“It may be possible to eradicate hepatitis C in both Australia and New Zealand within the next 20 years.”