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The BBC's Karen Allen
"The results will fuel demands for across the board screening"
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Dr Graham Foster who wrote the report
"In the next 5 to 10 years we'll see some major advances in the number of patients dying from liver disease"
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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 03:13 GMT 04:13 UK
Hepatitis surge prompts screening call
Women were tested at an antenatal clinic
Almost one in 100 women at an inner city antenatal clinic tested positive for Hepatitis C virus, a study has found.

This has led to calls for routine screening of women across the country.

In some cases, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis, leaving patients in desperate need of a liver transplant.

However, new treatments can cure four out of ten cases of chronic hepatitis C infection, so doctors are keen to find out who has the infection as soon as possible.

The study also found that women who had had tattoos were twice are likely to be infected as drug users - normally a group associated with the highest risk.

And two-thirds of the women who tested positive were newly diagnosed - many in groups with no obvious risk factors.

This means that targeted screening of women would be less likely to pick up the bulk of the cases.

A total of 4,825 women at the clinic were tested - 0.8% tested positive for the virus.

Tattoos and piercings

Of these, 13 women were drug users, most of them intravenous, 31 had either had tattoos or body piercing, chiefly pierced ears, and 17 had had earlier surgery, another risk factor.

The report's author, Dr Tina Cotzias, of St Mary's Hospital, London, said: "It is noteworthy that a high proportion of our infected mothers attended for further follow-up and treatment whereas patients with HCV in other settings have a high prevalence of subsequent non-attendance.

"Antenatal screening may therefore identify infected women when they are most receptive to medical intervention."

She added: "We believe that large-scale, randomised controlled trials of screening for HCV in pregnancy should now be considered."

Kate Grainger, spokeswoman for C Change, an umbrella group of Hepatitis C sufferers, clinicians and other organisations, said: "These figures do seem worrying.

"There is a lack of awareness about the symptoms and we have to make sure that when patients go to their doctors that hepatitis is considered."

She added: "If there is to be a national screening programme we have to make sure that it is confidential, can be trusted and that people are given the follow up counselling and treatment they need."

The study was published in the specialist journal Gut.

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30 Mar 00 | Health
Thousands in hepatitis alert
20 May 99 | Health
Drug users fuel hepatitis boom
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