World Hepatitis Day – HSE urges at risk persons to get tested as thousands unaware that they are infected
World Hepatitis Day is an annual event which takes place on the 28th July and is endorsed by the World Health Organization. Each year it provides international focus for patient groups and people living with hepatitis B and C and provides an opportunity for interested groups to raise awareness and influence real change in disease prevention and access to testing and treatment.
Hepatitis C is often called 'the silent pandemic', partly because the virus takes so long to manifest itself in those infected and is largely spread by blood-to-blood contact.
For most, initially there are no discernible symptoms, or non-specific ones such as general fatigue. This apparently benign situation can last for decades before turning decidedly worse.
A minority - estimated at 20-30% - develop cirrhosis of the liver, which typically appears after two or three decades. Those patients also suffer a higher risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer. The healthcare costs of these 'end-stage conditions' of hepatitis C can be substantial. They are the leading cause of liver transplants worldwide, including in Europe, the US and Japan.
The HSE is urging anyone who may be at risk of hepatitis C to get tested as it is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Ireland are chronically infected with hepatitis C, more than half whom are not aware of the infection.
Effective testing and treatment are available. Anyone who may have put themselves at risk of hepatitis C, either through current activities or due to a past lifestyle should visit their GP and get tested. While the majority of hepatitis C infections are related to injecting drug use, hepatitis C can be acquired by any blood to blood contact.
About 1,000 new cases are notified each year and Irish health services will come under pressure in the future if we don’t actively work to prevent new cases occurring and diagnose and treat the cases that have already occurred.