Hepatitis C is a rarity among public health issues – one we can eliminate in a relatively short amount of time. With revolutionary curative treatments available to all through the NHS, the greatest challenges to tackling hepatitis C are dispelling misconceptions, raising awareness and minimising barriers to testing and treatment.
The extent of the challenge is highlighted by new data released for World Hepatitis Day by The Hepatitis C Trust, showing that 80% of people don’t realise that hepatitis C can lead to cancer. Despite four out of five respondents stating they thought they knew what hepatitis C is, less than 40% knew that it infects the liver, and less than a third realised it is curable.
Symptom awareness is low, with only a third of respondents accurately identifying tiredness, loss of appetite, vomiting and abdominal pains as signs of infection. When asked how hepatitis C is transmitted, 30% incorrectly said it was through exchanging saliva. Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact, with shared needles being the most common transmission route. Less than half of adults knew that symptoms are not always obvious and can go unnoticed, leading to people living for years without knowing they are infected.
On World Hepatitis Day, The Hepatitis C Trust is calling for increased community outreach efforts to ensure all those living with hepatitis C who are undiagnosed or out of touch with services are tested, treated and cured. We want to see testing and treatment available in all community settings, including pharmacies, drug and alcohol services, sexual health services and primary care. There are excellent examples of innovative outreach methods around the country, including projects enabling testing and treatment in pharmacies alongside needle and syringe provision, home delivery of treatments, and nurse-led ‘one-stop’ hepatitis C services within substance misuse services. These projects should be upscaled and emulated.
Bold ambition will be necessary to achieve the NHS England’s stated ambition of eliminating hepatitis C by 2025, but it is possible, and we should seize the opportunity with both hands.