What healthcare professionals should know about hepatitis C

WORLD HEPATITIS DAY    –    28 July 2012

What healthcare professionals should know about hepatitis C

Jul 27, 2012 4:11 PM – Extract from The Guardian Show original item

Partnership between Addaction and the Hepatitis C Trust aims to ensure 2,000 at risk of contracting the virus are screened

World Hepatitis Day typically slips by without much fanfare, fitting for a disease which is rarely, if ever, spoken about.

That, in itself, is a real problem. The annual Health Protection Agency (HPA) report on hepatitis C, released this week, highlights how the hepatitis C burden continues to grow. Hepatitis C-related hospital admissions, liver cancer, deaths and registrations for liver transplants are all increasing.

Hepatitis C is much more infectious than HIV. In fact, despite being both preventable and treatable, it is the most prevalent blood-borne virus in the UK. It slowly destroys your liver and is the second most popular cause for a liver transplant after alcohol. And, as it’s an asymptomatic disease, without detection you won’t know you’ve got the virus until things have reached this stage and for many is too late.

If someone doesn’t know they have hepatitis C, they can unwittingly pass it onto someone else, something that happens most in marginalised groups such as intravenous drug users. If we leave that and similar situations unchecked, the picture is bleak. In fact, the HPA has predicted a 41% increase in the number of people with hepatitis C-related, “end stage” liver disease by 2015.

But the news is not all bad. If we improve upon the diagnosis and treatment we’re currently providing, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say we could effectively eradicate hepatitis C.

To do that, we need to raise awareness of the disease among the people we work with, and we as health professionals need to ensure that hepatitis C is firmly on our radar.

Addaction is one of the UK’s leading drug and alcohol treatment charities. Earlier this year, we joined forces with the Hepatitis C Trust to increase awareness and strengthen care pathways from diagnosis through to treatment.

The way this happens is simple. A staff member from the trust has been seconded to Addaction and, through our network of services across England and Scotland, they are delivering a nationwide training programme to more than 600 frontline staff. We estimate that at least 2,000 people at risk of the virus will be screened and those testing positive will be referred to specialist secondary care.

We’re committed to tackling hepatitis C, as in our experience it is a major barrier to the full recovery of people with a history of drug use. As an example, we’ve seen people who’ve beaten heroin addiction only to go on and develop severe problems with their liver later in life. That needs to change.

We’re certain the partnership we’re undertaking with the trust is incredibly important. It provides us with an enormous opportunity, to help thousands of people who really need it. It will lead to an evidence base that can be used by the whole of the healthcare sector and, most importantly of all, it could help us get rid of hepatitis C altogether.

David Badcock is head of research and development with Addaction

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