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Wednesday, 14 August, 2002, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Killer liver disease tackled
Intravenous drug users are at high risk of hepatitis C
Intravenous drug users are at high risk of hepatitis C
The government has launched the first national strategy to tackle hepatitis C.

The virus is carried in the blood, and can cause fatal liver problems.

About 200,000 people in England are estimated to be infected, but the majority are thought to be unaware they have hepatitis C.

It is hoped the strategy will raise professional and public awareness of the disease.

It also sets out proposals to improve the effectiveness of prevention, diagnosis and treatment services.


We need to be preventing future infections

Nigel Hughes, British Liver Trust
The measures are part of the Chief Medical Officer's infectious diseases strategy "Getting Ahead of the Curve."

They will include health campaigns raising awareness of the disease, and telling people how to avoid infection and where they can be tested.

Health professionals will be given more information and guidance on hepatitis C.

There will also be a new drive to prevent cases in high risk groups. such as injecting drug users, including needle exchanges.

The government is inviting comments on its proposals during a consultation period which lasts until mid-November.

A final action plan is expected to be published by the end of the year.

Treatment

Launching the strategy, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Pat Troop, said hepatitis C - and the number unaware they were infected - represented a major health challenge.

She added: "It is therefore essential that we intensify our efforts to prevent new cases and to diagnose and treat those who are already infected.

"This is particularly important as antiviral drug therapy is now available which can clear the infection in some 50% of people and prevent progression to serious liver disease."

Professor Howard Thomas, a leading expert on hepatitis C, who chaired the steering group which helped develop the strategy, said he believed the strategy set out a "clear path" for doctors in primary care for the treatment and prevention of hepatitis C.

"The document raises a number of important issues for consultation and we hope that there will be a positive response from all those concerned with combating this infection."

Nigel Hughes, chief executive of the British Liver Trust and a member of the steering group, said: "We need to be preventing future infections, and caring for and treating people already infected."

NHS workers

Hepatitis C is mainly spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.

This could be intravenous drug users sharing syringes, or if an infected surgeon is cut during an operation and their blood gets into the patient's wound.

On Wednesday, the government also published guidance for the NHS on health care workers infected with hepatitis C.

It says those known to be infected should not carry out invasive procedures.

The guidance follows 15 reported health care worker to patient hepatitis C transmissions in the UK.

It also recommends testing new health care workers who may be involved in such procedures in their jobs.

See also:

26 Apr 02 | Health
30 Mar 00 | G-I
23 May 01 | Health
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