It’s thought up to 95,600 people in the UK are living with hepatitis C (HCV) without realising, Public Health England (PHE) has warned.
The health body is urging anyone who believes they may have been at risk of contracting hepatitis C, especially if they have ever injected drugs, to get tested.
If left untreated, the bloodborne virus can cause life-threatening liver disease including cancer.
However, those infected often have no symptoms until decades later when their liver has been badly damaged. When symptoms do occur, they can often be mistaken for other conditions.
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, most commonly in the UK by sharing needles contaminated with the virus. Sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person could also pass on the virus.
Latest estimates suggest that around 143,000 people in the UK are living with chronic HCV infection in 2018, yet up to two thirds (95,600) of may not know it, preventing them from getting life-saving treatment. If you are concerned, contact your GP.
Dr Helen Harris, senior scientist at PHE, said: “Hepatitis C can have devastating consequences but most cases can be cured if detected in time, which is why it’s so important to find and treat those who may be infected.”
There are now a range of new treatments available to cure HCV and progress is being made to eliminate it as a major public health threat by 2030 at the latest.
There has been a 19% fall in deaths reported from serious HCV-related liver disease between 2015 and 2018 (from 468 to 380), with a more than 20% drop in the number of people living with HCV infection within the same period.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) target to reduce HCV-related mortality has been exceeded three years early in the UK.
Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Whilst it is encouraging that the estimated number of people living with hepatitis C is coming down thanks to the successful roll-out of DAA treatments, it is concerning that latest estimates suggest that around two thirds of those remaining could be living with undiagnosed infection.
“It is therefore essential that we increase diagnoses to ensure we achieve elimination by 2030 at the latest.”