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Link between immigration and hepatitis C examined

A major study looking at how immigration is affecting UK infection rates of hepatitis C is taking screening for the virus out into the community.

The study, led by Professor Graham Foster and funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Department of Health, aims to assess infection levels among Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities living in East and West London, Bradford, Walsall and Sandwell.  Professor Foster and his team are attempting to see whether higher infection rates on the Indian subcontinent are reflected in first generation immigrants to the UK.

The study has so far screened 3,000 members of these communities. Professor Foster attributes this success to the ability to carry out screening within nonclinical environments such as local community halls. He points out that this wouldn't have been possible without finding an alternative to blood testing.

Oral screening, which detects infection using fluids in the mouth rather than a blood sample, makes it possible to test for signs of blood borne viruses in nonclinical environments without the risk of inadvertent cross infection.

"Taking blood samples on a large scale just isn't practical outside a clinical environment which dramatically reduces the ability to screen a community for hepatitis C infection rates," explains Professor Foster. "To effectively reach these people we needed to be able to go directly to them.

"The other major advantage of oral screening is that it negates the health risks involved in screening. Hepatitis can be transmitted from even small amounts of dried blood, so by taking blood out of the picture entirely we also remove the possibility for infection, delivering a programme that is both safe and effective."

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