The Department of Health is calling on GPs and practice nurses to be on the alert for the 100,000 patients who don't know they've got hepatitis C as part of a new awareness campaign.
The "Get Tested. Get Treated" campaign will get underway in October with radio and online advertising to remind people of life experiences that could have exposed them to infection.
Evidence suggests around 100,000 individuals in England are unaware that they are infected. GPs and practice nurses are key to identifying patients at risk and encouraging them to be tested and treated.
The campaign encourages doctors to support the campaign by offering information and testing for patients in at risk groups like former injecting drug users and those from South Asian communities who may have been exposed to hepatitis C infection abroad.
Recent research indicates that the number of hepatitis C referrals from GPs and practice nurses to specialists is increasing, but awareness could be improved around the effectiveness of treatment. On average, drug therapy successfully clears the virus in more than half of patients treated, with success rates of around 80% for some strains.
National Director for Primary Care and Medical Adviser, David Colin-Thome said: "GPs and practice nurses play a vital role in the detection and diagnosis of hepatitis C. Around 100,000 people in England are estimated to have long-term hepatitis C but don't know they are infected. It can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear, if at all, and if left untreated can lead to liver damage and premature death.
"Fortunately, effective treatment is available. GPs and practice nurses, as the key clinical carer for their patients, will need to be alert to risk factors and symptoms and ensure they get tested and treated."
Dr Kosh Agarwal, Consultant Hepatologist at King's College Hospital, London, said: "Increasing awareness of hepatitis C amongst healthcare professionals is leading to more patients being diagnosed and referred for treatment. We need to sustain this progress so that we continue to reduce the level of undiagnosed infection, prevent serious liver disease and also help stop the spread of infection."
Primary healthcare care professionals are advised to visit www.orderline.dh.gov.uk or call 0300 123 1002 to request printed copies of the literature
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Consultant gastroenterologist told me despite partner's infection from tainted blood very small chance I would have it but I have. Told not to worry" - Harold Brisley, Hastings UK