Getting Tested for Hep C – It’s a Good Bet

Hundreds of posters urging people to get tested for Hepatitis C are being sent to betting shops and tattoo parlours across Forth Valley. It’s part of a campaign to mark World Hepatitis Day which will also include adverts on Central FM, highlighting transmission routes and the importance of early detection. These will be aired seven times a day between July 25 and August 3 2016.

Around 3,000 people in the area are believed to be infected with Hepatitis C – known as the silent disease   – but so far only around 1,500 have been diagnosed.

Carol Crawford from the Blood Borne Virus Managed Care Network explained: “Our decision to get in touch with bookmakers and tattoo parlours has been prompted because these are premises largely visited by men, and it is men who are generally more reluctant to engage with health services.

New antiviral treatments for Hepatitis C – some of which have only become available recently– are proving very successful for Forth Valley patients.

Health experts say these drug combinations are more effective – 90-95% cures compared with 70-75% cure for traditional treatment for those with more advanced liver disease. They have fewer side effects and are taken for a shorter period, eight to twelve weeks compared with up to one year. Some are also available in tablet form rather than having to inject.

In Scotland, Hepatitis C infection can be caught by injecting or snorting any drugs, including bodybuilding drugs.  Other risks include tattoos (particularly home tattoos), previous blood transfusions, needle stick injuries, sharing piercings, attending traditional barbers using open blades whilst on holiday, or having undertaken any medical, surgical or dental treatments abroad. Hepatitis C is infrequently spread by sexual activity, but other blood borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B are more commonly spread in this way.

NHS Forth Valley Consultant Hepatologist Dr Pete Bramley added: “It can take as long as 20 to 30 years for serious liver damage caused by Hepatitis C to become apparent with increasing symptoms,  hence the ‘silent killer’ label.  Over the past few years, testing, treatment and care service provision has increased dramatically.

“Diagnosing and treating people who are unaware of their infection will improve their quality of life and prevent risks of future ill health, and in turn prevent onward transmission to uninfected people and the wider public.”

With the prospect of further new treatments becoming widely available over the next few years, Dr Bramley is particularly keen to hear from anyone who tested positive for Hep C in the past who is not currently being followed-up for their hepatitis. There may be many reasons for this – it may just not have been the right time in their lives to go through assessment and treatment, they may have been worried about various side-effects or having to use regular injections. These new drugs are much less complicated, the treatment time is shorter and they have fewer side effects.

He also points out that those infected more than 20 years ago are at a much higher risk of advanced liver disease, and treatment could prevent further liver damage and cure the virus. He’s also keen to encourage anyone who had any blood transfusions or blood products prior to September 1991 to get tested for Hep C – a key recommendation from the  Penrose Inquiry –which looked at the risk of contracting Hepatitis C infection via previous blood transfusions and blood products.

People who feel they might have put themselves at risk and would like a blood borne virus test should either contact their GP surgery or phone the Forth Valley hepatology service direct on 01786 434079. For further information and advice visit on Hepatitis C visit www.hepatitisscotland.org.uk  or www.hepctrust.co.uk

Notes to Editors

Hepatitis C causes progressive inflammation of the liver. Whilst most people are unaware of the infection they face the possibility of developing debilitating or fatal liver disease at some point in their lives. Early diagnosis provides the best opportunity.

For further information contact NHS Forth Valley’s Communications Department on 01786 457243.