Deaths from serious hepatitis C related liver disease fell from 380 to 319, thanks to new curative treatments between 2015 to 2017. But while England has exceeded the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target to reduce hepatitis C related mortality by 10% by 2020, challenges still exist to eliminate the disease in this country.
These new data were announced this week at the PHE Research and Science Conference. PHE is urging those who may have been at risk of contracting hepatitis C, especially if they have ever injected drugs, to get tested.
As well as the fall in hepatitis C deaths, greater access to new curative treatments is also linked to a reduction in the number of people with the disease requiring liver transplants. In 2017, registrations for a liver transplant due to hepatitis C fell to a 10-year low of 63, a 53% decrease compared to pre-2015 levels.
Challenges remain if we are to meet the WHO’s target of eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 at the latest, with 113,000 people estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis C in England in 2018.
Estimates indicate that up to 79,000 people are currently living with undiagnosed active hepatitis C infection. This is because people with the infection often have no specific symptoms until their liver has been significantly damaged and so are unaware they are infected. When symptoms do occur, they can often be mistaken for other conditions.
Community pharmacies in Dundee and Tayside have been at the forefront of a novel programme to identify and treat local people living with the virus. Providing leadership for the pharmacy programme is Andrew Radley, Consultant in Public Health Pharmacy with NHS Tayside. Pharmacy teams are not just treating but also diagnosing the infection and assessing patients for treatment.
Dr Helen Harris, Senior Scientist at PHE, said:
“Hepatitis C infection can have devastating consequences, so the fact that more people are accessing treatment and fewer people are dying from the disease is a huge and very welcome step forward. Yet, more needs to be done if we are to eliminate this disease as a major public health threat in England. Over a hundred thousand people in this country are thought to be living with this serious infection, and we know that significant numbers of them are unaware they are infected.
“Anyone who may be at risk of infection, in particular, those who have ever injected drugs, even if they injected only once or in the past, should get tested. Given that new treatments provide a cure in around 95% of those who take them, there has never been a better time to get tested.”
Professor Graham Foster, NHS national clinical lead for the Hepatitis C networks, said:
“NHS England has invested several hundred million pounds to cure thousands of people with hepatitis C, resulting in dramatic progress on saving lives and reducing the number of liver transplants. And, with support from drug manufacturers, there is now a real opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C in England before the World Health Organization’s goal of 2030.”
Rachel Halford, Chief Executive at the Hepatitis C Trust said:
“It is encouraging to see deaths from hepatitis C-related liver disease falling as more patients access DAA treatments. It is, however, essential that we work to find the estimated 40 to 50% of patients who remain undiagnosed and support them to access treatment services – to stop unnecessary deaths and ensure we reach elimination of hepatitis C by 2030 at the latest. Anyone who thinks they may have been at risk of transmission should get tested – The Hepatitis C Trust website hosts a simple quiz which can tell you whether you may have been at risk.”