Deaths from hepatitis C related liver disease fell by 16 per cent between 2015 and 2017, from 380 to 319, according to the latest figures from Public Health England (PHE). While this puts England ahead of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of reducing deaths by 10 per cent by 2020, challenges still remain, says PHE. Around 113,000 people in England are estimated to be living with chronic hep C, with up to 79,000 of them undiagnosed.
Improved access to new treatments has also led to a fall in the number of people needing liver transplants, with a 53 per cent drop to a ten-year low of just 63. The new treatments have a cure rate of around 95 per cent, stresses PHE.
The agency used the announcement to repeat its call for anyone who has ever injected drugs – even if ‘only once’ – to get tested. Injecting drug use continues to be the most important risk factor for infection, being ‘cited as the risk in around 90 per cent of all laboratory reports where risk factors have been disclosed’. However, transmission rates among ‘recent initiates’ to injecting drug use remain relatively stable, says PHE, with infection prevalence standing at 23 per cent in 2017 compared to 20 per cent in 2011.
‘The fact that more people are accessing treatment and fewer people are dying from the disease is a huge and very welcome step forward,’ said PHE senior scientist Dr Helen Harris. ‘Yet more needs to be done if we are to eliminate this disease as a major public health threat in England. Over a hundred thousand people in this country are thought to be living with this serious infection, and we know that significant numbers of them are unaware they are infected.’
It was ‘essential’ to work to find the estimated 40 to 50 per cent of people who remained undiagnosed and support them to access treatment, added Hepatitis C Trust chief executive Rachel Halford. This would ‘stop unnecessary deaths and ensure we reach elimination of hepatitis C by 2030 at the latest. Anyone who thinks they may have been at risk of transmission should get tested – The Hepatitis C Trust website hosts a simple quiz which can tell you whether you may have been at risk.’
Hepatitis C in England 2019: working to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat available here
Could you have hepatitis C? at www.hepctrust.org.uk/quiz