Half of those living with hep C unaware of their condition

Around half of people living with hepatitis C infections are unaware that they have the virus, according to a new Public Health England (PHE) report. Nearly 14,000 hepatitis C infections were diagnosed in the UK last year, around 90 per cent of which were acquired through injecting drug use, says Shooting up: infections among people who inject drugs in the United Kingdom 2013.

Around two in five people who inject psychoactive drugs are now living with hepatitis C, says PHE, with half of the infections remaining undiagnosed, while about one in 30 of those who inject image and performance-enhancing drugs are also living with the virus. Interventions to reduce infections and diagnose them earlier need to be expanded, the agency stresses, with vaccinations and diagnostic tests ‘routinely offered’ to people who inject drugs and treatment made available to anyone testing positive.

Although reported rates of needle and syringe sharing have halved over the last decade, around one in seven people injecting psychoactive drugs still share needles and syringes and ‘almost one in three had injected with a used needle that they had attempted to clean’, says the document, with recent increases in the injection of drugs such as amphetamines and mephedrone also ‘cause for concern’.

‘With around half of those people living with hepatitis C still unaware of their infection, we need to do more to increase diagnosis rates,’ said PHE infections expert Dr Vivian Hope. ‘Ultimately, this will help reduce the current high level of infection we’re still seeing among people who inject drugs. Obtaining blood from people living with hepatitis C who inject drugs can be difficult due to poor venous access. Dry blood spot testing is an alternative method that avoids puncturing veins, and which has been proven to be reliable and simple, and acceptable to both people who inject drugs and drug service staff.’

There are now almost 110,000 people living with HIV in the UK, according to another PHE report, although the number of people being diagnosed with a late stage of infection has fallen from 57 per cent to 42 per cent in the last decade.

Shooting up: infections among people who inject drugs in the United Kingdom 2013, and HIV in the United Kingdom: 2014 report at www.gov.uk