New Treatments for Hepatitis C
New antiviral treatments for Hepatitis C – some of which have only become available in the past few months – 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.
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. Now, to coincide with World Hepatitis Day on July 28th 2015, an awareness campaign has been launched urging anyone who suspects they may have ever been at risk of contracting Hep C, to come forward and get tested.
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 said: “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 however we know that there are still many more people who are totally unaware that they are living with Hep C. I would urge anyone who may have been at risk at any point in their lives to get in touch so they can receive testing and specialist assessment, treatment and care if needed.”
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 follow-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 recent Penrose Inquiry –which looked at the risk of contracting Hepatitis C infection via previous blood transfusions and blood products.
Dr Bramley said: “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.”
Over the last year, training and awareness raising has been given to groups of local council workers, and health care staff in Forth Valley. This training is free to any organisation on request. Key workers in substance misuse services, some pharmacists and the Forth Valley Keep Well service have also been trained to carry out simple finger prick blood testing which makes the whole process much easier and more accessible for clients. Awareness sessions have been organised for the general public, and staff from NHS Forth Valley’s hepatology services are happy to speak to any groups who are interested in finding out more information on the subject.
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