New diagnoses of hepatitis C infection (HCV) have risen by more than a third in just two years, new reports show.
The 10,873 cases mark the highest levels of new cases since records began in 2010.
London accounts for more than a quarter (26%) of all HCV cases reported in 2012, where cases have also trebled.
Around 160,000 people are living with chronic HVC in England – many of whom are unaware of their infection, Public Health England (PHE) has claimed.
Across the UK more than 215,000 people are thought to be chronically infected.
Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis expert at PHE and report lead said: “It is vital to raise awareness about this condition so that more individuals are diagnosed and treated.
“Antiviral therapies exist that will clear the virus in most cases, yet only around three per cent of the chronically infected population in England access them each year.”
The increase in confirmed cases could be partly due to increased testing and laboratory reporting, according to PHE.
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease causing inflammation of the liver. If left untreated it can result in chronic liver disease, liver failure or even death.
As the liver can still operate even when damaged, many people are unaware they have the disease, only visiting the doctor when the liver becomes seriously damaged and symptoms occur.
'Get people tested'
In the UK, the greatest risk of hepatitis C infection is through sharing equipment for injecting drugs. Data from the Unlinked Anonymous Monitoring survey of people who inject drugs suggest that levels of infection in this group remained high in 2012, with around half of those surveyed in England being infected.
To help reduce the levels of sharing, Needle and Syringe Programmes continue to be developed throughout the UK and latest figures from national surveys of people who inject drugs across the UK suggest that levels of sharing are falling.
Others at risk of hepatitis C include those who have received blood transfusions before September 1991 or blood products before 1986 in the UK.
Individuals who originate from countries where hepatitis C is endemic are also at risk, often because they have undergone medical or dental treatment with unsterile equipment in their country of origin.
Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection at PHE, said: “The first step in getting people treated is to get them tested, so it is good news that more people than ever are being diagnosed.
“However there is much more that can and should be done to prevent more deaths and serious illness. In particular services need to be more easily accessible to those who need them to ensure better access to effective treatment and potential cure.”