Hospital admissions from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer continue to rise, according to latest figures highlighted by Public Health England.
Although there has been a small drop in deaths in 2013 compared to 2012, PHE said “caution was needed” as overall trends in admissions and deaths had been upwards for more than a decade.
“There is at last real hope that we will begin to see an impact on the number of deaths from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer”
The national public health agency has today published its latest annual report on hepatitis C cases in the UK, noting that while the virus was a “problem” in England, new treatment options and better testing represented a “solution”.
PHE estimates that 160,000 people in England are living with hepatitis C, many of whom are unaware of their infections.
However, it noted that more individuals were being tested and diagnosed for the disease. There have been “particular improvements” seen in primary care, said the report, where surveillance indicates that testing has risen by 21% in England in the last five years.
People who injecting drug users remained at greatest risk of infection, said PHE. The report highlighted the importance of maintaining provision of needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapies in drug services, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of hepatitis C.
Report author Dr Helen Harris, a hepatitis C expert at PHE, said: “With more patients being tested and improved treatments, there is at last real hope that we will begin to see an impact on the number of deaths from hepatitis C-related end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.
“Antiviral treatments are available in the UK that can successfully clear hepatitis C virus in the majority of patients, and new drugs coming online offer improved rates of viral clearance, fewer side effects, and are easier to administer,” she said.
She highlighted a recent policy announcement making new treatments available to patients with hepatitis C-related cirrhosis.
- Funding for newer hepatitis C drugs announced
- NICE approves two new drugs for treating chronic hepatitis C
- NICE gives backing to hepatitis C drug in latest draft guidance
It would help to reduce the “future burden” of hepatitis C and a “scale-up” of new treatments in those with less severe disease could achieve a reduction in the numbers of patients who would otherwise go on to develop serious liver disease, she added.
Responding to the PHE report, Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We are living in a potentially transformative time for hepatitis C. New treatments offer us the chance to save and transform the lives of thousands of people in this country.
“No longer can we tolerate the ever-rising number of people dying from hepatitis C related cirrhosis and liver cancer,” he said. “We can instead create a future where hepatitis C is eliminated as a serious public health concern.”