More than 13,000 new cases of hepatitis C were diagnosed in the UK last year, around 90% acquired through injecting drug use, a new publication from Public Health England (PHE), shows.
The report shows that around two in five people who inject psychoactive drugs such as heroin, crack and amphetamines are now living with hepatitis C, but half of these infections remain undiagnosed.
Hepatitis C can be successfully treated with antiviral medications if caught early. Around a quarter of those with hepatitis C clear their infection. Often, hepatitis C infection remains asymptomatic and is only diagnosed after liver damage has occurred.
Left untreated hepatitis C infection can result in severe liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death.
Dr Vivian Hope, a PHE expert in infections among people who inject drugs, said: “With around half of those people living with hepatitis C still unaware of their infection, we need to do more to increase diagnosis rates. Ultimately, this will help reduce the current high level of infection we’re still seeing among people who inject drugs.”
Dr Fortune Ncube, Consultant Epidemiologist and lead for PHE on Injecting Drug Use said: “To reduce transmission and decrease rates of hepatitis C infection it is imperative that we maintain adequate provision of effective interventions such as needle and syringe programmes, opiate substitution and other drug treatment.”