Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England have launched a nationwide exercise to identify and treat people who have previously been diagnosed with hepatitis C. While almost 25,000 people in England have accessed new and ‘potentially curative’ treatments over the last three years, ‘tens of thousands’ of people who were diagnosed in the past may not have done so, says PHE.
The agencies are urging anyone who may have been at risk of contracting the virus – ‘especially if they have injected drugs, even if only once’ – to get tested. The last three years has seen 95 per cent of people who completed treatment cured of the infection, says Hepatitis C treatment monitoring in England, with 70 per cent of those treated reporting injecting drugs as their ‘likely risk’ for acquiring the virus.
‘Hepatitis C is a serious infection and therefore we are delighted to see that at least nine in ten people who have completed treatment in England have now been cured,’ said PHE clinical scientist Dr Helen Harris. ‘This is fantastic news, and a step towards eliminating hepatitis as a major public health threat by 2030, as knowing the numbers accessing treatment is vital to tackling this infection. We will however continue in our endeavours to find and treat everyone who is living with hepatitis C. If you have been at risk of contracting hepatitis C, particularly through injecting drugs, even if you injected only once or in the past, then I urge you to get tested to see if you would benefit from these new, effective treatments.’
There was ‘an extraordinary opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C in the near future if we can ensure all those living with the virus are treated with simple, curative treatments’, added Hepatitis C Trust chief executive Rachel Halford. ‘We know that many people who were previously diagnosed were never treated, and might be unaware that new treatments are now available. This re-engagement exercise will help ensure everything possible is being done to find, treat, and cure those infected and move towards elimination by 2030.’
Hepatitis C remains the most common blood-borne infection among people who inject drugs, says PHE’s updated Shooting Up: infections among people who inject drugs in the UK report, with ‘significant levels of transmission among this group’. While levels of needle and syringe sharing have fallen it remains a problem, the report says, with one in six reporting sharing of needles and syringes in the last month.
Reports at www.gov.uk