What the NHS want you to know about hepatitis C
Hepatitis This World Hepatitis Day, Public Health England and NHS Choices aim to raise awareness for one of the world's most infectious diseases: hepatitis C.
Why is testing for HCV such an essential part of the elimination strategy here in the UK?
A substantial proportion of people are unaware that they are infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV or Hep C), and so need to get tested in order to access potentially curative treatment and care.
"Success depends on our capacity to find and treat those who are undiagnosed."
In England, the NHS aims to treat 15,000 patients per year by 2020. If these levels of treatment can be maintained, modelling suggests that this would lead to a fall in Hep C-related severe liver disease of 80% by 2030. However, our ability to sustain this increase in the numbers treated is dependent on our capacity to find and treat those who remain undiagnosed and to help those who are diagnosed but untreated to engage with accessible treatment services.
Which groups are at the most risk and who you would encourage to get tested?
The hepatitis C virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact, so you should get tested if you think you might have been exposed to the blood of someone who may have the virus, for example, if you:
- Received a blood transfusion before September 1991, or a blood product before 1986 in the UK
- Shared needles or other equipment to inject drugs, even if it was just once or many years ago
- Had medical or dental treatment abroad in unsterile conditions
- Had a tattoo, piercing, acupuncture, electrolysis, or semi-permanent make up using equipment that may have been unsterilised.
- Had unprotected sex with someone who has, or might have, hepatitis C, particularly if there were opportunities for blood-to-blood contact during sex
- Shared a razor or toothbrush with someone who has, or might have, hepatitis C
A short quiz is available on the NHS Choices website, which can help you to determine whether or not you should have a test.
Where can one go to get tested?
A simple and free blood test is available from local GPs, sexual health clinics, genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics or drug treatment services.
What does the test involve?
Two blood tests need to be done to discover if you have Hep C: the first test (an antibody test) indicates whether you have been infected at some stage, but cannot confirm whether you are currently infected; the second test (a PCR test), which can be carried out on the same sample of blood, checks whether the virus is still present, and a positive result indicates current infection that requires treatment.
What are the next steps after a positive test?
All those with a positive PCR test should be referred to a liver specialist for consideration for treatment.
What is the messaging for the public where HCV testing is concerned?
People can be unaware they have hep C, even when they acquired the infection years or even decades earlier.
"Hep C often has no specific symptoms, so can progress to advanced stages before the person is aware. "
It is therefore important to seek a hep C test if you think you may have been exposed to the virus. If you are unsure, speak to your GP or take our quick online quiz (www.hepctrust.org.uk/quiz) to find out whether you might have been exposed to the virus and would benefit from a test. New treatments for hep C are being rolled out and these drugs offer a fast and effective cure to the vast majority who receive them, without many of the complications associated with previous treatments.