If the risk of hepatitis infection is to be overcome, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has warned that people need to be more aware of the risk factors of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and be encouraged to present for testing. NICE believe that the awareness of the risk of infection needs to be raised amongst the general population, health professionals, and those at an increased risk.
More than half a million people in the UK are affected by hepatitis, either acute or chronic. If an acute infection (first six months) is left to become chronic it increases the risk of chronic liver damage, cirrhosis of the liver and primary liver cancer. In order to prevent this from increasing, NICE are advising that hepatitis B vaccination should not only be implemented on a wide-scale, but should be audited, and that those people who might be at risk of infection should be tested in a variety of settings in order to provide the latest treatments for hepatitis.
Those people at risk of hepatitis infection, a blood-borne virus, include people who have come into contact with contaminated blood such as through sexual infection, from mother-to-child, and through the use of infected needles. Estimates in England and Wales also suggest that the prison population, and those people of South Asian descent are also at an increased risk. NICE emphasise, however, that it is not only those people who are at risk themselves who should request testing, but health professionals working with them.
Professor Mike Kelly, the Director of Public Health at NICE warned that the people who have been diagnosed with hepatitis B or C are “…just the tip of the iceberg. Despite the availability of effective treatments and the potentially serious consequences of not being tested and treated, there still seems to be a general ignorance among the whole population… This lack of knowledge is undoubtedly contributing to a… low uptake of testing among those at increased risk of infection and stigma surrounding hepatitis B and C.”