1. ITV Report

Drive to trace Hepatitis C patients

Credit: Sebastian Gollnow/DPA/PA Images

Public Health Wales is working to find thousands of people in Wales living with hepatitis C, to offer them new treatments that it says cure nearly all cases of the illness.

Over the coming months Public Health Wales, with support from local health boards and GPs, will write to people who have previously been diagnosed with hepatitis C, but haven’t been successfully treated, to invite them to be retested and get new treatments if they are still infected.

Doctors say the new treatments, which became more widely available in 2015, are very effective and can cure the virus in more than 90 per cent of cases. The treatments consist of a once daily tablet for eight to 12 weeks and have minimal side effects.

There have been significant improvements in hepatitis C treatments in recent years.

There are individuals in Wales who have been previously diagnosed to have this infection but for various reasons have not engaged with health services to get treated. We encourage everyone who is contacted to get retested and start treatment if appropriate.

Hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer and liver failure if left untreated, so it’s important that people start treatment early for the best possible outcome. Many people don’t develop signs or symptoms for many years, so may not know they have the virus until their liver is severely damaged.

– Dr Giri Shankar, Professional Lead Consultant for Health Protection at Public Health Wales

Guidance recommends screening for hepatitis C infection in the following situations:

  • Current and past injecting drug use
  • • Blood transfusion pre-1991 and/or treatment with a blood product pre-1986
  • • Born or raised in a high-prevalence country (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Eastern and Southern Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific Islands)
  • • Babies whose mothers have hepatitis C infection
  • • Prisoners and young offenders
  • • Looked after children
  • • Those living in hostels or who are homeless
  • • HIV-positive men who have sex with men
  • • Close contacts of someone with hepatitis C infection

An estimated 12,000 people in Wales, or 0.4 per cent of the population, are living with hepatitis C, many of whom do not know they have the virus.