Don't Take A Risk - Get Tested

A top Glasgow Hepatitis C specialist has called for people at risk of the virus to come forward and get tested.

The fresh appeal was made by Glasgow Royal Infirmary’s Dr Stephen Barclay as the hospital marked 20 years of treatment of the disease at a special event recently in St Mungo's Museum.

Treatment Advances

In the late eighties a new blood borne virus was identified as Hepatitis C. At that time there wasn’t a treatment but in 1991 the first vaccine was introduced.

Back then medicines to treat anyone diagnosed with Hepatitis C consisted of a long course of injections, causing significant side effects, and curing less than half of patients treated.

20 year on medicines for the treatment of Hepatitis C has significantly evolved and today more than nine out of 10 patients are being cured with treatments that are shorter, simpler and easier to take.

Signs and Symptoms

As far as viruses go Hepatitis C is among the sneakiest and can travel to the liver and remain silent for a long time.

Many people may not know they have been infected until it is too late as the signs and symptoms may not show until the liver is severely damaged.

Those at Risk

Unfortunately there are still people who have not been tested for Hepatitis C who are at risk of having contracted it.

People most at risk for Hepatitis C infection are:

  • People who had blood transfusions, blood products, or organ donations before June, 1992, when sensitive tests for HCV were introduced for blood screening.
  • Health care workers who suffer needle-stick accidents.
  • Injection drug users, including those who may have used drugs once many years ago.
  • Anyone who received healthcare in third world countries.

Other people who may be at a slightly increased risk for Hepatitis C are:

  • People with high-risk sexual behaviour, multiple partners, and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • People who snort cocaine using shared equipment.
  • People who have shared toothbrushes, razors and other personal items with a family member that is HCV-infected

A simple blood test is all it takes to identify if you are affected.

Treatments

Treatment for Hepatitis C involves taking a combination of two or three medications known as combinations therapy and making lifestyle changes to help prevent further damage to your liver and reduce the risk of spreading the infection

Dr Stephen Barclay, Consultant Hepatologist at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, treats patients diagnosed with Hep C and over the years has seen the changes in medicine.

Dr Barclay said: “Patients with Hepatitis C may have little or no symptoms until the liver is severely damaged, and sadly we often diagnose people for whom earlier testing and treatment could have prevented cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

“It is vital that everyone at risk is tested. People who may have injected drugs only once or twice, or injected a long time ago are at risk, and are often diagnosed late as they aren’t aware of the condition.

“Other risk factors include blood transfusion in the UK prior to 1991 and, less commonly, unprotected sex, non sterile tattoos and piercings, healthcare in underdeveloped countries and infection passed from a mother to her baby.”

Hepatitis C is easily diagnosed by a simple blood test available from GPs, Community Addiction Teams, Sandyford Health Services (www.sandyford.org) and Waverley Care (www.waverleycare.org) Scotland’s Hepatitis C and HIV charity.