Today, Public Health England have released data showing that deaths from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease have fallen by 11% in 2017 compared to the previous year.
This fall is most likely due to increased use of new antiviral medications now available on the NHS which have the potential to cure the condition in most cases and have fewer side effects than previously used medications.
More people are accessing treatment than ever before with an increase of 19% on the previous year and of 125% when compared to pre-2015 levels.
Judi Rhys, Chief Executive at British Liver Trust said: “It’s fantastic to see the life-saving impact of the initiatives that have been introduced to tackle this public health threat. Clearly, incredible progress has been made by providing patients with better access to curative treatments. While this news is encouraging, more needs to be done to find those who are unaware they have hepatitis C and to prevent people from contracting it.
“We would urge anyone who has ever dabbled in drugs (even if it was many years ago); 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. Further information is available on our website here.”
In the UK, around 200,000 people have a long-term infection with hepatitis C virus. People who have ever injected drugs are most at risk of infection, but around half of people living with hepatitis C are unaware of their infection.
Two years ago, the UK government committed to a joint ambition with 193 other countries to eliminate the disease as a public health threat by 2030. As well as testing and treatment, prevention through needle and syringe exchange services and opiate substitution therapies need to be sustained to achieve and maintain elimination.
If untreated, infection with the hepatitis C virus can lead to liver damage, cancer and even death. It is normally spread through blood-to-blood contact by sharing needles, but even sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person could pass the virus on.
The disease often has no symptoms until it causes serious complications many years later. Urgent testing and prompt treatment is needed in order to ensure infected people don’t suffer from serious health complications in the future.