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Reuters Health Information (2005-12-14): Cases of hepatitis C-related liver disease set to increase in Britain

Public Health

Cases of hepatitis C-related liver disease set to increase in Britain

Last Updated: 2005-12-14 16:03:04 -0400 (Reuters Health)

LONDON (Agence de Presse Medicale for Reuters Health) - The number of Britons developing liver disease as a result of hepatitis C infection is rising, with significant implications for healthcare resources, according to the Health Protection Agency.

In a report published on Tuesday, the agency estimates that the number of people now living with hepatitis-C related cirrhosis, end stage liver disease or liver cancer is around 4,500, with a 95% confidence interval of 3,283 to 6,539.

It predicts that by 2010 this number will have risen to around 7,000 (95% CI 4,543 to 13,223).

The report shows that laboratory-confirmed diagnoses for hepatitis C rose from 6,341 in 2003 to 7,902 in 2004, though it is not known to what extent this increase was real or the result of government-backed campaigns encouraging at-risk groups to be tested.

The number of first liver transplants performed for hepatitis C-related disease increased from 24 (6%) in 1995 to 84 (19%) in 2003.

Between 1996 and 2004 the number of deaths per year in England from end stage liver disease or liver cancer with any mention of hepatitis C on the death certificate rose steadily from 81 to 163, the report said.

Overall, 200,000 people in England are believed to have a chronic hepatitis C infection, though the great majority have not been diagnosed and have not developed cirrhosis.

The report notes that most individuals with chronic hepatitis C infection can be successfully treated though this relies on people coming forward for testing.

"To enable this, local health services need to provide clear pathways of referral to enable these patients to access the necessary services and be diagnosed," it says.

The report recalls that Britain's health technology watchdog, NICE, recommended in 2004 a combination of pegylated interferon alpha and ribavirin for the treatment of patients with moderate to severe chronic hepatitis C.

Professor Pat Troop, Chief Executive of the Agency, said in a statement: "Our report shows that the burden hepatitis C places on the individual and on healthcare services is high and will rise in the future."

She added: "Public and professional awareness campaigns are vital, as they will help reduce the level of undiagnosed infections, and consequently the level of disease."

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