Doctors have warned that about 100,000 Britons could live with hepatitis C, but do not realize that they are carriers of the killer virus.
If left untreated, this disease can cause cancer and be fatal, Public Health England warned today.
Infected people often have no symptoms until decades later, when their liver begins to show signs of serious damage.
And when symptoms appear, they are often confused with other, less serious conditions, warned PHE.
They include nausea and vomiting, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and abdominal pain.
Sharing razors and toothbrushes is a risk
PHE estimates that about 143,000 people in the UK live with chronic HCV – but about 95,600 of them may be totally unaware that they have the virus.
The virus is spread by blood-to-blood contact, usually among drug users sharing needles.
But PHE warns that even sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person can put you at risk for infection.
Dr. Helen Harris, Senior Scientist at PHE, said, "Hepatitis C can have devastating consequences, but most cases can be cured if they are detected in time.
"That's why it's so important to look for and treat those who might be infected.
"Anyone who may be at risk of infection, especially people who have already injected drugs, even if they have only been one or two times, should to test.
"Since new treatments can cure about 95% of people who take them, the time has never been better to get tested."
Plan to eliminate hepatitis C
If people do not know if they are at risk, PHE advises responding to a short questionnaire on The Hepatitis C Trust website to determine if it is worth testing.
PHE said that a large number of treatments can cure HCV – and that progress is being made to eliminate it as a major threat to public health by 2030.
The number of deaths due to liver disease decreased by 19% between 2015 and 2018, and more than 20% fewer people were diagnosed with the virus during this period.
The World Health Organization's goal of reducing HCV-related mortality was surpassed three years earlier in the United Kingdom.
This is also noticeable in people with the disease who need a liver transplant.
In 2017, registrations for a liver transplant due to hepatitis C in England dropped to 63, their lowest level in 10 years – a 53% decrease from those before 2015.
ARE YOU AT RISK? SIGNS TO KNOW …
HEPATITIS C is a transmissible virus that affects the liver.
It can cause inflammation, significant damage and increase the risk of cancer, if it is not treated.
- if you had a blood transfusion before 1992
- if you have injected or injected drugs in the past
- exposure to equipment used by barbers and hairdressers who are not sterilized or cleansed can spread the virus
- sharing razor blades or toothbrushes
- tattoos or piercings can increase the risk if the tools are not sterilized properly
Many people with hepatitis C do not show symptoms – that's why doctors make people at risk get tested.
Among the 25 to 35% of people who show signs, they include:
- slight fever
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- nausea and vomiting
About 20% of people develop jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes.
This is a warning sign that liver functions are affected because bilirubin (the pigment of bile) accumulates in the body.
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C:
For those who live with the disease over a long period of time, the symptoms may be similar to those of a liver disease.
Symptoms range from mild inflammation to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Other signs include:
- difficulty concentrating – "brain fog"
- bad memory
- chronic fatigue
- pain in the abdomen
- dry eyes, irritable bowel and irritable bladder
For more information, visit the Hepatitis C Trust website here.
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Felicity Cox, Director of Specialized Processing and Delivery of Orders at NHS England, said: "Thanks to a very innovative new agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, NHS England is committed to eliminating the need for it. Hepatitis C as a major threat to public health before the 2030 goal of the WHO.
"The new report stresses that, in order to achieve our common goal, there is a need to work tirelessly with key partners, with a particular focus on engaging and training at-risk patient groups in order to to test and treat as quickly as possible ".
Rachel Halford, Executive Director of Hepatitis C Trust, said: "While it is encouraging that the estimated number of people living with hepatitis C is decreasing thanks to the success of treatment, it is worrisome to see that latest estimates suggest that about two-thirds of the remaining people could live with an undiagnosed infection.
"It is therefore essential to increase the number of diagnoses to ensure elimination by the 2030 horizon."
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