Monday 23 October 2017

15,000 Irish people unaware they’re living with hepatitis C

The hepatitis C virus infects and damages the liver.
The hepatitis C virus infects and damages the liver.
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Around 20,000 to 30,000 people have hepatitis C in this country — but just one in two are aware they are infected.

The virus had a high profile in Ireland in the last two decades because it was found to have contaminated batches of the blood product Anti-D given to mothers in the late 1970s and early 1990s.

However, there are more common  ways of getting infected and lack of awareness means that it is called “the silent pandemic.”

The virus infects and damages the liver and infection can happen if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person.

In most cases, hepatitis C causes no noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged.

When symptoms do occur, they are often vague such as flu-like symptoms, like muscle aches and loss of appetite. Others include feeling tired all the time and depression.

Anyone who may have put themselves at risk of hepatitis C, either through current activities or due to a past lifestyle, should visit their GP and get tested.

While the majority of hepatitis C infections are related to injecting drug use, hepatitis C can also be acquired by any blood to blood contact. People who have the virus are urged to:

• keep personal items, such as toothbrushes or razors, for your own use

• clean and cover any cuts or grazes with a waterproof dressing

• clean any blood from surfaces with household bleach

• do not share needles or syringes with others

• use condoms

Dr Shay Keating of the Drug Treatment Centre Board warned that “to date, no funding has been made available for the implementation of the HSE’s Hepatitis C Strategy.

“While we are treating as many patients as possible, we are not getting as far ahead as we would like.

“Additional funding and a lift of the moratorium to recruit additional staff are needed in order to implement the national strategy fully.

“ As clinicians, we have set ambitious treatment targets but we must be resourced in such a way as to make these targets achievable.

The  HSE said it has produced a number of campaign materials including posters and videos urging people to “seek help, get tested.”

Between 2004 and 2013, a total of 12,334 cases were notified — peaking in 2007, according to a report from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Three quarters of people diagnosed with Hepatitis C the since 2007 were injecting drug users.

Men account for two thirds of cases each year and the majority of the newly diagnosed are in the 25-54 year age group. The average age at notification has increased steadily over the 10 years, from 32 to 38 years in men, and from 29 to 36 years in women.

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