UK hepatitis C ‘time bomb’ warning

The UK is facing a hepatitis C ‘time bomb’, a new report has warned.

The report, conducted by the Hepatitis C Trust, compared the UK to France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and found that Britain was at the bottom of each league table when it came to tackling the disease.

According to the report, the UK is failing to identify and treat a sufficient number of people infected with the disease.

Only 1-2% of hepatitis C sufferers had been identified in the UK and was receiving treatment with approved medication, which could help prevent them developing diseases such as liver cirrhosis and cancer. As a result, the Hepatitis C Trust warned that the prevalence of chronic liver disease in the UK was “set to soar” and could cost the NHS up to £8 billion within 30 years.

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “The government needs to make hepatitis C a priority. We have a dreadfully poor track record at diagnosing the disease. Over 400,000 people in the UK with the virus are completely unaware they have been infected. As a consequence, they are not in a position to make lifestyle decisions that could reduce liver damage and may inadvertently be putting others at risk of infection.”

The report blamed the government’s failure to set adequate screening targets for hepatitis C, which meant that only one in seven infected people had been tested for the disease. The Trust said that, as a result, patients are only being identified when they have progressed to late stage liver disease, where one of the main options is a liver transplant.

There is currently an average of 750 livers available for transplantation each year.

Lead author of the report, Professor Rosenberg, from the University of Southampton, said: “If we continue to do nothing about hepatitis C then between 100,000 and 300,000 people will have to endure preventable liver disease. If we catch it in time, the virus can be treated with drugs than cure 40 – 80% of those infected.”

The Department of Health said that the treatment of hepatitis C had been included in the Chief Medical Officer’s infectious disease strategy and that a national framework was in place to help improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Hepatitis C is transmitted via the blood and is usually associated with intravenous drug use, tattooing or body piercing and blood transfusions, prior to the introduction of screening in 1991.


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