Up to two thirds of the estimated 143,000 people in the UK living with a chronic hepatitis C infection may be unaware they have it, according to the latest figures from Public Health England (PHE). That equates to 95,000 people who could otherwise be getting life-saving treatment, the agency stresses.
PHE is renewing its call for anyone who believes they have been at risk of contracting the virus – particularly if they have ever injected drugs – to get tested. Better access to new treatments may be a factor in falling numbers of people with hep C requiring liver transplants, says the agency, which have decreased by more than 50 per cent since 2015. There has also been a 19 per cent fall in deaths from HCV-related liver disease between 2015 and 2018, from 468 to 380.
NHS England has committed to eliminate hep C as a major public health threat five years ahead of the World Health Organization’s 2030 target. However, challenges remain, says PHE, with an urgent need to identify people who are undiagnosed and to help those who have been diagnosed but remain untreated to engage with services. A recent report from the London Joint Working Group on Substance Use and Hepatitis C (LJWG) found that differing electronic patient record systems and confusion around data protection issues were hampering efficient data sharing among services engaged with people with hep C (DDN, September, page 8).
‘Hepatitis C can have devastating consequences but most cases can be cured if detected in time, which is why it’s so important to find and treat those who may be infected,’ said PHE senior scientist Dr Helen Harris. ‘Anyone who may be at risk of infection, in particular those who have ever injected drugs, even if they injected only once or in the past, should get tested. Given that new treatments provide a cure in around 95 per cent of those who take them, there has never been a better time to get tested.’
‘Whilst it is encouraging that the estimated number of people living with hepatitis C is coming down thanks to the successful roll-out of DAA [direct-acting antiviral] treatments, it is concerning that latest estimates suggest that around two-thirds of those remaining could be living with undiagnosed infection,’ added Hepatitis C Trust chief executive Rachel Halford. ‘It is therefore essential that we increase diagnoses to ensure we achieve elimination by 2030 at the latest.’
Hepatitis C in the UK at www.gov.uk. Read the report here