The fall in deaths from hepatitis C in 2016 – the first in more than a decade – has continued into 2017. This is likely to be the result of increased treatment with new direct acting antiviral (DAA) drugs, with an increase of nearly 50 per cent over the last year, and of nearly 90 per cent when compared to earlier years.
Now that hepatitis C is much easier to treat, Public Health England is pushing to reduce its prevalence. A problem is that a substantial number of the estimated 214,000 people living with hep C infection may be unaware they have the virus.
Despite its debilitating effect on the liver – it can cause severe liver damage and cancer – many with hep C may have no specific symptoms, with some (including tiredness and abdominal pain) easily overlooked.
Around one-third of those with the long-term infection are believed to be aged over 50 years and may have contracted the virus years ago. Injecting drug use continues to be the most important risk factor for infection.
PHE is encouraging people to get tested and has drawn up a list of criteria for anyone who is concerned about whether they should get tested. GP practices, GUM clinics and drug treatment services can provide tests.