Drive to encourage Hep C testing in Edinburgh and the Lothians

Health Scotland LogoPeople in Edinburgh and the Lothians at risk of having the Hepatitis C virus are being encouraged to come forward for testing as part of a new Scottish Government campaign.

Launching today, the communications campaign is designed to tackle the current Hepatitis C epidemic by increasing awareness of the virus among at-risk groups, and encouraging them to come forward for testing.

Across Edinburgh and the Lothians, 142 people were diagnosed as Hepatitis C positive between January and September 2009.

The campaign will use strategically-placed posters to target groups such as former injecting drug users, people who had a blood transfusion in the UK before 1992 and anyone who may have shared items, such as razors, with someone who has the virus.

Dr Ewen Stewart, clinical lead for NHS Lothian's Hepatitis C Managed Care Network, said:

 "Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can have serious consequences if it is not diagnosed and treated. In many cases it can be cleared completely with appropriate treatment. Unfortunately many people with the virus are unaware that they are infected.
"Getting tested is an important first step so it is vital that anyone in Lothian who may have been at risk of having contracted the virus contacts their GP or one of our other testing clinics to discuss taking the test.
"This includes anyone who has ever injected drugs, no matter how recently or long ago that was, people who had blood transfusions in the UK before 1992 or people who may have had unsterile medical treatment abroad or unhygienic tattoos in the UK."

The campaign - part of the three-year Hepatitis C Action Plan which aims to improve testing, treatment, care and support services - will support the Scottish Government's target to get 2,000 new people into Hep C treatment each year.

Public Health Minister Shona Robison said:

"Hepatitis C is a serious illness but, crucially, it can be treated. That's why early diagnosis is vital - unless people know they have the virus they can't be treated.
"Anti-viral treatment completely clears the virus in up to 80 per cent of cases, reducing liver damage and complications, as well as preventing infected people from transmitting the virus.
"Although most people contract hepatitis C through injecting drug use, 8 in 10 people currently infected are not currently injecting drugs.
"The main aim of this campaign is to get more people to come forward for testing. However, it will also dispel some of myths surrounding Hep C - for instance, you can't catch Hep C through saliva and in the main it's spread through blood to blood contact."

Health boards and stakeholders have been preparing for an increase in hepatitis C testing and treatment since the action plan launched in 2008.

Progress to date includes:

  • Increasing the number of people treated for hepatitis C. NHS boards will treat around 800 new patients for Hep C in 2009/2010, compared with around 400 in 2007/08.
  • Significant infrastructure and service development for Hepatitis C treatment, care and support to increase treatment numbers further
  • A Hepatitis C Managed Care Network (MCN) within each board area, made up of relevant specialists
  • A learning and development lead at each health board to co-ordinate training for professionals who deal with people who have, or may have, the virus.

Information on testing, referral and treatment is available here: www.hepcscotland.co.uk. 

08/03/2010