More people are being tested for hepatitis C leading to more cases being diagnosed, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).
The HPA credited the rise in testing to the NHS campaign, FaCe It, which was launched in December 2004. It targeted both medical professionals and the public in support the government’s hepatitis C action plan for England.
But despite the campaign, the HPA still expects the number of people with hepatitis C-related end stage liver disease to increase to 2,670 by 2015
Hepatitis C is contracted through contact with infected blood and through other body fluids. HPA estimates that 90% of newly acquired infections are caused by injecting drugs and sharing equipment.
It estimates that about 230,000 people in England and Wales were exposed to the virus in 2003. But as the symptoms are initially mild or non-existent, for most it remains undiagnosed.
Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis C expert from the Health Protection Agency, said: “The predicted future burden of this disease is a real cause for concern, particularly when the true number of people in England suffering from severe hepatitis C-related liver disease is known to be under-estimated. National data on the people being referred and treated will be essential for ensuring equal access to high quality care across the country”
It also noted that over the past 10 months, the campaigning work of the late Dame Anita Roddick, who died from liver disease caused by Hepatitis C in September 2007, had put the virus in the spotlight.
In the HPA annual report 2007, published this month, it noted a 10-fold increase in the number of Hepatitis C tests in specialist drug services, between 2002-6, and consistently high numbers of tests in GP surgeries.