On Tuesday 28th July, World Hepatitis Day, the British Liver Trust joins health organisations, health professionals and supporters across the world to push for urgent action to find the millions of people globally who are unaware that they have viral hepatitis B and C.
There is now an effective cure for hepatitis C – a life-threatening disease that often has no symptoms – and the UK government has pledged to eliminate the disease by 2030. In the last two years we have seen excellent progress with more than 70,000 people cleared of the virus. However, it is estimated that 143,000 people are still infected with hepatitis C across the UK, and around two thirds of these people remain undiagnosed.
There are also 180,000 people in the UK infected with hepatitis B. Both forms of hepatitis often have no symptoms in the early stages, can be potentially fatal and can cause liver cancer so it is vital that those at risk are tested and diagnosed.
Professor Steve Ryder, Medical Advisor to the British Liver Trust, says: “A key challenge in eliminating viral hepatitis is the undiagnosed – we now have to find the people who are not aware that they have ever put themselves at risk or been tested.
“We would urge anyone who has ever taken drugs (even if it was many years ago) to get tested. Many people are aware that sharing or being injected with the same needle and syringe is a huge risk for infection through blood to blood contact.
“However, people are less aware that if you share a rolled-up note or straw for snorting drugs such as cocaine you also risk exposing yourself and others.
“Other people who may be at risk are those who have had unprotected sex with someone who may have been infected; had a tattoo or received healthcare in a country with a high prevalence of the virus or who may be have been put at risk in their workplace, for example from a needlestick injury, to get tested to be sure. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, testing is still going ahead. Don’t wait - please get tested if you can.”
Hepatitis C affects people very differently – many people with it may have no symptoms at all and may never know they have the virus. About one in five people infected with hepatitis C will clear the virus, in its acute form, within two to six months. About 80% of people who are infected with hepatitis C will develop a chronic infection.
Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected blood or other body fluids. It doesn’t always cause symptoms and many people clear the virus within a few months. However, because there are few symptoms, chronically infected adults often remain undiagnosed and untreated until the liver is irreversibly damaged. People at highest risk of hepatitis B include people born or brought up in a country where the infection is common such as those from sub-Saharan Africa, east and southeast Asia, parts of South America, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
The British Liver Trust raises awareness of viral hepatitis throughout the year through its Love Your Liver campaign. You can find out if you are at risk of viral hepatitis and other types of preventable liver disease by taking their online liver screener