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PHE publishes annual report on hepatitis C
28 July 2015 • Author: Victoria White
Public Health England (PHE) continues to highlight and inform public health policy and interventions in relation to hepatitis C.
Gathering and analysing information on cases allows PHE to monitor progress and identify specific groups where targeted interventions may be appropriate. The latest figures show hospital admissions from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer continue to rise. Although there has been a small drop in deaths in 2013 compared to 2012, PHE says that caution is needed as the overall trends in hospital admissions and deaths have been upwards for more than a decade.
PHE estimates that 160,000 people in England are living with hepatitis C, many of whom will be unaware of their infections. However, more individuals are being tested and diagnosed; particular improvements have been seen in primary care where surveillance indicates that testing has risen by 21% in England in the last five years.
People who inject drugs remain at greatest risk of infection. It is encouraging that in 2014, 83% of people who inject drugs and participated in surveys report having had a hepatitis C test, an increase from 67% in 2004. The report highlights the importance of maintaining provision of needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapies in drug services as part of the wider efforts to prevent the spread of hepatitis C infection.
More patients are being tested for hepatitis C
Dr Helen Harris, hepatitis C expert at PHE, who led the publication of the report, said, “With more patients being tested and improved treatments, there is at last real hope that we will begin to see an impact on the number of deaths from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.
“Antiviral treatments are available in the UK that can successfully clear hepatitis C virus in the majority of patients, and new drugs coming online offer improved rates of viral clearance, fewer side effects, and are easier to administer.
“Hepatitis C is a problem in England, but it’s a problem with a solution.”
The recent policy announcement making new treatments available to patients with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis, will help to reduce the future burden of hepatitis C disease, and a scale-up of new treatments in those with less severe disease could achieve a reduction in the numbers of people who would otherwise go on to develop serious liver disease.
Charles Gore, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust said, “We are living in a potentially transformative time for hepatitis C. New treatments offer us the chance to save and transform the lives of thousands of people in this country. No longer can we tolerate the ever-rising number of people dying from hepatitis C related cirrhosis and liver cancer. We can instead create a future where hepatitis C is eliminated as a serious public health concern.”
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