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Primary care services vital in combating hepatitis C

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Patients not considered 'at-risk' may be infected Patients not considered 'at-risk' may still be infected with hepatitis c

Practice nurses and other primary care health professionals are 'particularly important' to the screening and diagnosis of hepatitis C, a leading figure has said after a PHE report showed a rise in the condition.

The report, Hepatits C in the UK: Annual report, found that approximately 160,000 people in the UK were living with the condition, many of them unaware, emphasising the need for more effective screening. However, the report notes particular improvement in screening in primary care services, with surveillance indicating a 21% rise in the number of tests carried out for hepatitis C in primary care settings since 2010.

Dr Helen Harris, hepatitis C expert at PHE, and lead author of the report, suggested that primary care staff were 'particularly important' due to the large numbers of patients they see. She said: 'Primary care staff will already be in contact with large numbers of at-risk groups. For example, people who are currently injecting drugs may be using drug treatment services, so they can be referred to general practice.

'However, they can also inform patients who are no longer considered at risk, but may still have the condition. For example, people who once used drugs, and people who had a blood transfusion before screening for hepatitis c in blood was introduced in 1991' she said.

People who inject drugs and share hypodermic needs are the group most at risk of contracting hepatitis C. The report notes improvements in screening of this group, with 83% of people who inject drugs reported having had a hepatitis C test in 2015, an increase from 67% in 2004.

Dr Harris added: 'With more patients being tested and improved treatments, there is at last real hope that we will begin to see an impact on the number of deaths from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.'

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