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More than 200,000 Brits chronically infected with HCV

Around 214,000 individuals are chronically infected with hepatitis C (HCV) in the UK, national estimates from Public Health England (PHE) suggest.

Injecting drug use continues to be the most important risk factor for HCV infection in the UK with half of people who inject drugs (PWID) are thought to have been infected in England and Wales; levels are lower in Northern Ireland (23%) and higher in Scotland (57%).

However, across the UK, more individuals are being tested and diagnosed and  “over the last five years particular improvements have been seen in primary care where surveillance indicates that testing has risen by 21%, 46% and 53% in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland respectively”, PHE's new report Hepatitis C in the UK states.

Hepatitis C is a virus that is carried in the blood and can cause serious damage to the liver. There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, and there are often no symptoms for many years.

The report also mentioned recent UK surveys that suggest between 45-68% of PWID are aware of their HCV infections; meaning that levels of awareness of infection have remained relatively stable in the UK over the last decade.

In the UK, HCV in both new and repeat blood donors has continued to fall to a rate of 19.3 and 0.3 infections per 100,000 donations in new and repeat donors respectively.

In England and North Wales, a disproportionately large number of infections are seen in those of South Asian origin and in those of 'other white' backgrounds, the majority of whom are born outside the UK, particularly in Eastern Europe.