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Awareness And Testing For Hepatitis C Are Increasing, UK
  31 Dec 2006
A new report from the Health Protection Agency shows that the number of people newly diagnosed with hepatitis C has increased; from 2,116 in 1996, to 7,580 in 2005. New figures also show that testing for hepatitis C has increased overall, for example, in GP surgeries', testing has increased by almost 60 per cent between 2002 and 2005.
The latest estimates on the number of adults infected with hepatitis C showed there were around 231,000 in 2003. Many of these infected people do not realise they have the virus as it can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear. Early treatment, however, is effective at clearing the virus in the majority of people. It is therefore important that individuals at risk are tested by their GP or other health services.
Dr Helen Harris, a Hepatitis C expert from the Agency said "This is the second annual report on Hepatitis C from the Health Protection Agency, summarising current knowledge of the infection and the action being taken to tackle it. Hepatitis C is very under-diagnosed simply because people are unaware that they are carrying it. By increasing awareness of the infection, more people will be tested, will receive earlier and more effective treatment, and they can avoid passing it on to others."
"We estimate that almost 6 in 10 people with hepatitis C injected drugs at some point in their past. If someone has ever shared equipment for injecting drugs - even if it was a long time ago, and even if they only did it once or twice - they could be at risk from hepatitis C. A simple blood test can establish whether someone has ever been infected with the virus"
Professor Pete Borriello, Director of the Agency's Centre for Infections said,"Testing for hepatitis C has increased significantly, however there is still much work to be done as a significant number of individuals remain undiagnosed. If you don't know you've got it, you can't do anything about it. Health services should consider this as they formulate strategies to increase testing."
The report highlights the Department of Health's hepatitis C awareness campaign, FaCe It, which has now reached over 16 million people. The exhibition campaign visits cities across England and features large photographic portraits of people living with Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C in England - An Update 2006 is published by the Health Protection Agency and contributors. To see a full copy of the report, click here.
Contributions to the report were received from a number of people from the Health Protection Agency as well as The Department of Health, The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and The Trent Hepatitis C Cohort Study Group. Anyone who thinks they might be at risk of infection should contact their doctor or nurse or call the Hepatitis C Information Line on 0800 451 451 or visit
Between 70-80% of adults with hepatitis C become chronically infected. The preliminary estimates for 2003 suggest that 0.53% of the 15-59 year age group in England and Wales were chronically infected. Although prevalence estimates in older individuals are less secure, as the major risk factor for hepatitis C is injecting drug use, we expect the prevalence in older individuals to be lower than in the 15-59 year old population. Similarly, the prevalence in children under 15 years is expected to be very low.
Sentinel surveillance suggests that testing in GP surgeries has increased by almost 60% because 8584 individuals were tested in nine sentinel laboratories in 2005 compared to 5382 individuals being tested in the same laboratories in 2002.
Laboratory confirmed diagnoses for hepatitis C rose from 6341 in 2003 to 7580 in 2005. This indicates that the rate of diagnoses has risen and therefore that more diagnostic testing is taking place.
Hepatitis means swelling or inflammation of the liver. The most common causes of hepatitis are viral infections. Hepatitis C infection (also known as Hep C or HCV) is one such virus that can cause long-lasting infection and can lead to liver disease. The UK is the only major developed nation showing an upward trend in the number of deaths from liver disease.
Health Protection Agency (UK)
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