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Hepatitis C rates rise by a third over two years

Confirmed Hep C cases for 2012 rise to 10,873

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 26 July 2013

The numbers of confirmed cases of Hepatitis C in England have risen by more than a third to 10,873 between 2010 and 2012, according to Public Health England (PHE).

PHE has published its Hepatitis C in the UK: 2013 report in which it said that laboratory confirmed new diagnoses of hepatitis C infection reported in England had risen from 7,882 in 2010 (when statutory notification by diagnostic laboratories was first introduced) to 10,873 cases in 2012.

Similar rises have been recorded in Wales and Northern Ireland, but in Scotland, the number of new cases fell slightly from 2,114 in 2010 to 1,911 in 2012 following the introduction of new dry blood spot testing methods.

In London, which accounts for 26% of all hepatitis C cases reported in England in 2012, cases almost trebled to 2,844 cases in 2012, up from 954 in 2010.

The report confirms that around 160,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C virus infection in England and many of these are unaware of their infection. UK-wide, more than 215,000 individuals are thought to be chronically infected.

PHE said that over the past 15 years, hospital admissions for hepatitis C-related end stage liver disease and liver cancer in England had increased from 574 in 1998 to 2,266 in 2012, while deaths had risen from 115 in 1998 to 326 in 2012.

There had been more registrations for liver transplants – 52 in 1998 to 114 in 2012 – although figures have been relatively stable over the past five years.

Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis expert at PHE, who led the publication of the report, said: “While there has been an increase in confirmed cases of hepatitis C infection, partly as a result of increased testing and partly because of improved laboratory reporting, sadly, many people chronically infected with hepatitis C remain unaware of their infection.

“For many, it can be several years or even decades before they develop symptoms. It is therefore vital to raise awareness about this condition so that more individuals are diagnosed and treated.”

The report’s authors calculated that numbers of hepatitis C related end stage liver disease and liver cancer patients could be substantially reduced by increasing access to treatment.

If the number of people being treated doubled over the next 10 years, around 6,000 new cases of hepatitis C related end-stage liver disease could be averted over the next 30 years, they said.

The highest risk of hepatitis C infection was through sharing equipment for injecting drugs, said the authors, and data from the Unlinked Anonymous Monitoring (UAM) survey of people who inject drugs suggested that levels of infection in this group remained high in 2012 (49% in England).

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director at PHE, said: “The first step in getting people treated is to get them tested, so it is good news that more people than ever are being diagnosed. However there is much more that can and should be done to prevent more deaths and serious illness. In particular services need to be more easily accessible to those who need them to ensure better access to effective treatment and potential cure.”

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