Scientists awarded 2020 Nobel Prize for hepatitis C discovery

Posted on: 8th October 2020

Three scientists who discovered the hepatitis C virus have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. The blood-borne virus is a major cause of liver disease around the world.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “We are delighted that the Nobel Prize committee has chosen to recognise this significant medical breakthrough.

“Since the amazing work of these three scientists, there has been such a rapid increase in our understanding of hepatitis C that we are now talking about eliminating the virus.

“The UK must now work hard to reach the World Health Organization target to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 – a key challenge is the fact that hepatitis C often has no symptoms in the early stages so it is vital that anyone who is at risk asks to be tested as there are now effective cures available.”

About hepatitis C

Worldwide, many millions of people are infected with chronic hepatitis C. The condition affects people very differently – many people with it may have no symptoms at all in the early stages and may never know they have the virus.

But for others, symptoms can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, flu-like symptoms or jaundice. If left untreated, it can sometimes lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

In the last two years there has been excellent progress with more than 70,000 people cleared of the virus in the UK. 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.

Get tested if you might be at risk

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.