17/10/2023 | Press releases

Supporting the drive to stamp out hepatitis C

East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) is supporting the NHS’s drive to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat in England by 2025 by urging people from marginalised communities to take a free home test.

The Viral Hepatitis team is encouraging anyone who may have been exposed to the virus to take a test, even if they have no symptoms. This is because hepatitis C can lead to life-threatening conditions such as liver cancer or liver failure if left untreated – which is why catching it early is so important.

“Over 80% of people with hepatitis C don’t have any symptoms,” said Claire Clark, assistant practitioner for viral hepatitis. “That means it might not get spotted until it’s too late and has turned into something much more serious.

“Because of the way it is spread, the virus is also much more prevalent among people who share environments, such as sofa surfers and IV drug users – many of which are also often more difficult for the NHS to reach.

“Our team tries to make it as easy as possible for these groups to get checked. We visit places like prisons, food banks, soup kitchens, traveller drop-ins and drug treatment centres so that we can raise awareness among marginalised groups and carry out an easy, convenient test. If the results show someone has been exposed, they will be referred specialist service for a simple course of treatment.”

Hepatitis C is spread by blood-to-blood contact, such as sharing toothbrushes, razors, getting tattoos abroad or in prison, and injecting drugs or from drug paraphernalia such as snorting straws. People born in countries with higher prevalence of the virus, such as in eastern Mediterranean, Europe and south east Asia, or who have had medical treatments abroad, are also at increased risk, as are health professionals who have had a needle stick injury.

ESNEFT’s team (pictured above) is led by Dr Abdul Mohsen and made up of two consultants, a pharmacist, a nurse consultant, three assistant practitioners, three nurse specialists and a co-ordinator, and aims to reach as many of these groups as possible. They cover the whole of east Suffolk and north Essex, as well as prisons at Highpoint, Chelmsford, Warren Hill and Hollesley Bay.

“The virus can survive outside the body for 72 hours on items such as hair clippers and toothbrushes, which is why those living in close proximity are more at risk,” added Claire. “A lot of our work therefore takes place in prisons, where one in every 12 people has hepatitis C. Every two years, prisons can apply for funding to complete a high intensity test and treat (HIIT), where we test the whole prison so that people can start treatment earlier and reduce the risk of onward transmission.

“Anyone who is diagnosed can be treated with a simple course of tablet medication with almost 100% cure and be free from the virus within eight to 12 weeks – which is why testing is so vital.”

People aged 18 and above can order a free hepatitis C test online, and will receive the results within two weeks. Anyone who tests positive will be contacted to arrange follow up treatment.

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