Health alert as 100,000 Brits have killer hepatitis C infection – but have no clue.

DOCTORS have warned around 100,000 Brits could be living with hepatitis C - but not realise they have the killer virus.

Left untreated, the condition can cause cancer and prove fatal, Public Health England warned today.

 Public Health England has warned up to 96,000 Brits could have hepatitis C but not know they have the killer virus

Public Health England has warned up to 96,000 Brits could have hepatitis C but not know they have the killer virusCredit: Getty - Contributor

Those infected often have no symptoms until decades later when their liver starts to show the signs of severe damage.

And when symptoms do appear, they are commonly mistaken for other - less serious - conditions, PHE warned.

They include nausea and vomiting, fatigue, fever, appetite loss and tummy pain.

Sharing razors and toothbrushes a risk

PHE estimates around 143,000 people in the UK are living with chronic HCV - yet around 95,600 of these may be completely unaware they have the virus.

The virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact, commonly in drug users who share needles.

But, PHE warns even sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person can leave you at risk of infection.

Dr Helen Harris, senior scientist at PHE, said: "Hepatitis C can have devastating consequences but most cases can be cured if detected in time.

"That's why it's so important to find and treat those who may be infected.

"Anyone who may be at risk of infection, in particular those who have ever injected drugs, even if they injected only once or in the past, should get tested.

"Given the new treatments provide a cure in around 95 per cent of those who take them, there has never been a better time to get tested."

Plan to wipe out hep C

If people aren't sure whether they are at risk, PHE advises taking a short quiz on The Hepatitis C Trust website, to see if it's worth getting tested.

PHE said there are a range of treatments that can cure HCV - and progress is being made to eliminate it as a major public health threat by 2030.

There has been a 19 per cent fall in deaths from the liver disease between 2015 and 2018, with more than 20 per cent fewer people being diagnosed with the virus in that time.

The World Health Organisation target to reduce HCV-related mortality has been exceeded three years early in the UK.

That's also noticeable in the fall in people with the disease needing liver transplants.

In 2017, registrations for a liver transplant due to hepatitis C in England fell to a 10-year low of 63 - a 53 per cent decrease compared to pre-2015 levels.

ARE YOU AT RISK? THE SIGNS YOU NEED TO KNOW...

HEPATITIS C is a blood-borne virus that affects the liver.

It can cause inflammation, significant damage and increases the risk of cancer - if left untreated.

Risk factors:

  • if you had a blood transfusion prior to 1992
  • if you inject or have injected drugs in the past
  • exposure to equipment used by barbers and hairdressers that aren't sterilised or cleaned can spread the virus
  • sharing razor blades or toothbrushes
  • tattoos or piercings can increase risk if tools aren't sterilised properly

Symptoms:

Many people with hep C don't show symptoms - hence why doctors urge people at risk to get tested.

For the 25 to 35 per cent of people who do show signs, they include:

  • slight fever
  • fatigue
  • appetite loss
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea and vomiting

About 20 per cent of people will develop jaundice - a yellowing of the skin and eyes.

It's a warning sign that the liver's functions are being affected, as bilirubin (the pigment of bile) builds up in the body.

Symptoms of chronic hep C:

For those living with the condition over a long period of time, the symptoms can be similar to that of liver disease.

Symptoms range from mild inflammation to cirrhosis, and liver cancer.

Other signs include:

  • difficulty concentrating - 'brain fog'
  • poor memory
  • chronic fatigue
  • pain in the abdomen
  • dry eyes, irritable bowel and irritable bladder

For more information visit The Hepatitis C Trust website here.

Felicity Cox, director of transformation and delivery for specialised commissioning at NHS England, said: "Thanks to a new and highly innovated agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, NHS England has committed to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat ahead of the WHO goal of 2030.

"The new report highlights that to achieve our shared goal there's a need for relentless collaboration with key partners, with a particular focus on engaging and educating at-risk patient groups to ultimately test and treat as fast as we can."

Rachel Halford, chief executive, The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “While it is encouraging that the estimated number of people living with hepatitis C is coming down thanks to the successful roll-out of treatments, it is concerning that latest estimates suggest that around two thirds of those remaining could be living with undiagnosed infection.

"It is therefore essential that we increase diagnoses to ensure we achieve elimination by 2030 at the latest.”


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