The annual hepatitis C 2016 report has been published today (28 July 2016), World Hepatitis Day, with latest figures suggesting improved access to treatments may be having a positive impact.
Treatment rates saw an increase of around 40% in 2015, up to 8,970 from an average of 6,400 in previous years. This is likely to be the result of access to new hepatitis C drugs that came online in 2014 to 2015, and offer improved cure rates, fewer side effects, and are easier to administer.
Public Health England (PHE) estimates that 160,000 people in England are living with hepatitis C. This virus causes inflammation of the liver, but because our livers can still operate when damaged, many people are completely unaware they have the infection.
Preliminary figures show that deaths in the UK from hepatitis C-related end stage liver disease and liver cancer fell for the first time in 2015, suggesting that drugs may be having a positive impact.
Earlier this year, the World Health Assembly adopted a Global Health Sector Strategy on viral hepatitis for the period 2016 to 2021, calling for a 10% reduction in hepatitis C deaths by 2020. We are confident that, if current progress continues, we will exceed this in the UK.
Dr Helen Harris, hepatitis C expert at PHE, who led the publication of the report, said:
It’s early days, but with more patients being tested and improved treatments, there is genuine hope that we are seeing an impact on the number of deaths from hepatitis C related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.
However it’s not enough to just treat the liver damage caused by the virus, we also need to prevent infection in the first place, and continue to highlight the importance of prevention and testing.
Many people may be unaware of their infection because they have only mild or no symptoms. If we don’t do more to identify these people, they are likely to remain unaware of their risk until they present with advanced disease. Health care professionals in primary care and other settings should therefore consider hepatitis C testing in people who may be at risk. Those most at risk are people who have ever injected drugs, had a blood transfusion before the introduction of screening of the blood supply in 1991, and people born or brought up in countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis C.
- For more information about hepatitis C, please visit Hepatitis C: guidance, data and analysis.
- For information and support, please visit the Hepatitis C Trust website.
- For information about liver disease, please visit the British Liver Trust website.
Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland.