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New NICE guide on hepatitis B treatment

Nurses and other medical professionals are receiving new advice from NICE on how to diagnose, treat and manage patients with chronic hepatitis B, which affects 180,000 people in the UK.

The condition is caused by a virus in the blood that infects the liver. The latest clinical guidelines are designed to make sure the increasing number of people suffering from the disease receive effective specialist treatment.

Hepatitis B is usually transferred in infected blood through the skin, in some cases through needles used to inject drugs. Mothers can also pass it to their children either in the womb or by breastfeeding.

If the virus is not dealt with properly, acute infections can become chronic, meaning patients are more likely to suffer fibrosis or cirrhosis of the liver through scarring of the organ, liver failure or cancer of the liver. Statistics show that as many as 180,000 people in the UK suffer from chronic hepatitis B.

NICE has set out new guidelines on how people of all ages should be assessed and when antiviral treatment is needed. It examines how safe, efficient and cost-effective the existing treatments are, advises on initial therapy and how to deal with cases where the body resists drugs or treatments fail to work.

The guide explores the use of a combination of different therapies and gives advice on checking responses to the treatment and how to end it. Information on fibrosis severity and the onset of primary liver cancer is also provided.

Angela Narbey is a Nurse Consultant in viral hepatitis at South London Healthcare Trust and also a member of the group that developed the guidelines. She said the guidelines will help to develop “patient-centred” and consistent methods of care throughout the whole process of diagnosis, treatment and management of cases of chronic hepatitis B.

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