England set to be first country in the world to wipe out Hepatitis C virus


Hepatitis C set to be wiped out in England in THREE YEARS: Nation is in pole position to eliminate virus which can lead to cancer and liver disease

  • The NHS is set to eliminate the virus by 2025 – five years ahead of global targets
  • Deaths have fallen 35% in six years, well-exceeding the WHO’s target of 10%
  • England is set to be first country in the world to declare itself free from the virus 

Hepatitis C could be wiped out within two years thanks to a campaign to find and treat those most at risk.

The NHS is set to eliminate the virus by 2025 – five years ahead of global targets.

Deaths have fallen by 35 per cent in six years, well-exceeding the World Health Organisation’s target of 10 per cent.

It puts England in pole position to be the first country in the world to declare itself free from the virus, which can lead to liver disease and cancer.

Hepatitis C (pictured) could be wiped out within two years thanks to a campaign to find and treat those most at risk. The NHS is set to eliminate the virus by 2025 – five years ahead of global targets

WHAT IS HEPATITIS C? 

Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver.

It is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood, such as sharing unsterilised needles, razors and toothbrushes.

The infection causes no symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged, meaning many people have the infection without realising.

Symptoms can include muscle aches, a fever, feeling tired all the time, a loss of appetite, stomach ache and being sick. 

If left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver.

There are around 120,000 people in the UK and 2.4million people in the US who are living with chronic hepatitis.

Most aren’t aware that they are infected. 

The progress comes after a five-year contract worth almost £1billion to buy antiviral drugs, which have a 95 per cent cure rate.

Dedicated ‘Find And Treat’ programmes have also helped the NHS drive down Hepatitis C cases among vulnerable communities such as the homeless.

Some 70,000 patients have been cured of the disease as part of the programme so far, which has also drastically reduced the need for liver transplants.

Rachel Halford, of the Hepatitis C Trust, described the progress made as ‘truly astounding’.

She said: ‘We now need a final concerted effort to make sure we reach all those that may be affected and reach elimination.’

Health chiefs said the number seeking liver transplants due to the virus fell from around 140 per year to less than 50 in 2020.

People in the most deprived communities have seen the biggest benefit, with 80 per cent of treatments provided to the most deprived half of the population.

This includes children born with the infection, with more than 100 children received infection-curing antivirals in the last year alone.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said the NHS is ‘leading the world’ in the drive to save lives and eliminate Hepatitis C while also tackling a ‘significant’ health inequality.

He said: ‘Thanks to targeted screening and because the NHS has a proven track record of striking medicine agreements that give patients access to the latest drugs, we are on track to beat global targets and become the first country to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030 – which will be a landmark achievement.’

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which, left untreated, can cause liver cancer and liver failure.

It usually displays no symptoms until the virus causes enough damage to bring on liver disease.

Symptoms may include fatigue and difficulty concentrating and the virus is also linked to cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, kidney disease and musculoskeletal pain.

With the homeless at higher risk, the NHS has worked with charities including St Mungos to trace and treat those vulnerable to the disease.

Specialist teams have provided same-day screenings along with help to complete a full course of treatment.

Substance use, sharing toothbrushes, razors and other general lifestyle factors associated with sleeping rough are among a range of reasons putting the homeless at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis C.

Sara Hide, of St Mungo’s in Oxford said: ‘With treatment for Hepatitis C now less invasive – a course of medication for 8-12 weeks – we’ve seen an uptake in people responding to our screening services. We also screen for other conditions at the same time to identify clients that might need extra health support.’

Health minister Lord Markham said: ‘I’m grateful to NHS staff and our partner charities like St Mungo’s for the fantastic progress that has been made so far. Deaths and prevalence of the virus have fallen consistently thanks to improvements in diagnosis and access to treatments.’

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