Hepatitis C hospital cases soar

 

Around 216,000 people in the UK are chronically infected with hepatitis C.

A Health Protection Agency (HPA) annual report into the infectious disease revealed an increase in hospital admissions and deaths for End Stage Liver Disease (ESLD) and liver cancer - both of which are related to hepatitis C.

In 2010 there were 1,979 hospital admissions, compared to 612 in 1998, while deaths have risen from 98 in 1996 to 323 in 2010.

There was also an increase in registrations for liver transplants with post-hepatitis C cirrhosis, from 45 in 1996 to 101 in 2011.

In 2011, 9,908 new diagnoses of hepatitis C were reported to the HPA in England, up from 7,892 cases in 2010, however the HPA said the rise is thought to be due to changes in laboratory reporting.

The report, Hepatitis C in the UK, looks at the future burden of hepatitis C-related infections and national progress in tackling the infection. It was produced to coincide with World Hepatitis Day on July 28.

Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis expert at the HPA, said: "Many of the 216,000 people who are chronically infected with the virus are unaware of their infection. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to monitor the true burden of infection to help focus public health action on getting these people diagnosed and into treatment.

"Although our latest report shows that we are having a number of successes in our fight against hepatitis C, many people continue to become seriously ill from this preventable infection, which is usually treatable if caught early enough.

"We must therefore redouble our efforts and continue to develop new schemes to raise awareness in at-risk communities and ensure that individuals who may have been exposed to the virus are tested, diagnosed and treated early, before they become seriously ill."

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus causes inflammation of the liver and, when left untreated, can result in chronic liver disease, liver failure, or death.

Because the liver is able to work even when damaged, many people are unaware they have the disease at first because they have no symptoms. It is only when the liver becomes seriously damaged that symptoms occur and people report to their doctor.

Dr Harris added: "It's very encouraging that new drugs are now available that can help clear the most difficult to treat strain of the virus in most people. Between 2006 and 2011, an estimated 27,500 people with chronic hepatitis C in England have been treated with Nice-recommended combination therapy, but more people need to access this treatment if the future burden of hepatitis C infection is to be averted.

"It's important that hepatitis C provision continues to be a priority for the NHS, particularly for those marginalised groups of society who are most affected by the epidemic.

"We also believe it's vital that local commissioners continue to work together to ensure that all affected individuals are able to access prevention and healthcare services."

PA

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