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Thousands could have hepatitis C

Thousands more people could discover they have hepatitis C through a new pharmacy screening programme, experts have revealed.

In the UK, up to 500,000 people are thought to be living with the disease but are unaware of it.

A far higher rate of people with hepatitis C has been identified by a pilot scheme, run in 19 pharmacies, than the number found by family doctors.

One in six people tested in pharmacies came back as positive for hepatitis C, which can be transmitted through infected blood, or hepatitis B, which can also be transmitted through other bodily fluids.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Hepatitis C Trust said the results show the need for wider screening.

Hepatitis C can cause serious liver disease and liver cancer but many people carry the disease for years with no symptoms.

The results involved pharmacies offering the test to patients at risk, who were all identified through a series of questions designed to determine their chance of exposure.

From 234 tests carried out, 35 people were diagnosed with hepatitis C (15% of tests) and four people with hepatitis B (2% of tests).

In GP surgeries, 4% of targeted tests find positive hepatitis C patients and 2% of find hepatitis B patients.

Gary Warner, a pharmacist on the Isle of Wight, said: "The results speak for themselves - pharmacies see a different cohort of people to those who see their GP and therefore we can access and diagnose people who otherwise would not have been tested."

Copyright © Press Association 2010

Hepatitis C Trust