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Experts confident the ‘elimination’ of Hepatitis C is on track with 45% fall in England

UKHSA data has revealed that there has been a 45% fall in the number of people living with Hepititis C in England since 2015.Experts are confident that the virus can be eliminated by 2030

Improved antivirals have meant that fewer people are contracting Hepatitis in England, with an estimated 70,649 people living with the virus in 2022. This 45% decrease in cases is reassuring experts that the disease can be eliminated by 2030.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: ‘finding and treating more than 80,000 people as part of our hepatitis C elimination programme is a huge achievement and I’m delighted that we remain on track to eliminate the virus as a public health concern by 2030.’

Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus that can cause life threatening liver disease, including cancer. It is most commonly contracted through sharing needles and often does not present any symptoms until many years later.

Despite the ‘huge progress’ that has been made in recent years to manage the virus,  and bring down the number of people who contract it, challenges remain.

Dr Sema Mandal, Deputy Director, Blood Borne Viruses at UKHSA, said: ‘Hepatitis C treatment has improved dramatically over recent years, but we need to identify people with the infection early to keep on track with elimination by 2030. Many people remain undiagnosed, often because they have no symptoms or are unaware that they have ever been at risk.

‘If you have ever injected drugs – even if it was only once or years ago – you could be at risk of hepatitis C. If you think you could be at risk, speak to your GP or do a test at home.’

Earlier this year, NHS England launched a free and confidential online testing portal, which means people can order an at-home testing kit to find out if they have the virus and receive treatment. According to NHS England, more than 4,500 people have already ordered the kit.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: Hepatitis C treatment is simple to take and highly effective, with people usually cleared of the virus within 3 to 4 months. If anyone is worried they might be at risk, it’s never been easier to get tested and be treated, or receive peace of mind, at the first opportunity.

NHS England continue to work towards the elimination of Hepatitis C. The plan starts with enhancing the evidence base, surveillance and evaluation of public health interventions on blood borne viruses. The NHS then hopes to improve its understanding of why people acquire new blood borne virus infections or reinfections, and optimise communications and initiatives to reduce transmissions.

Increased awareness of Hepatitis C and fewer cases of the virus should result in a reduction of health inequalities. The campaign aims to mobilise under-engaged populations by drawing on surveillance data to address gaps in care.

Deaths and prevalence of the virus have fallen consistently thanks to improvements in diagnosis and access to treatments. We are at the forefront of tackling this serious disease, by swiftly procuring the best treatments and tackling inequalities through targeted screening and will continue to work towards the World Health Organization’s target of eliminating this virus by 2030.