People from the so-called ‘baby boomer’ generation, who have taken drugs or got themselves tattoos, or even had a blood transfusion, are asked to consider having a test for the virus – which they may be unaware they are carrying.
Around 1000 people in the area are thought to be unaware they have the virus, with the highest number believed to be in the 50 to 60 age group.
Hepatitis C is an inflammation of the liver and, while most people are unaware of the infection they face the possibility of developing debilitating or fatal liver disease at some point in their lives.
Early diagnosis provides the best opportunity for effective treatment. It also allows those infected to take steps to prevent transmission of the disease to others, for example by adopting safe sex practices, while they undergo treatment.
NHS Forth Valley consultant hepatologist Dr Pete Bramley said: “It takes between 20 and 30 years for liver damage caused by Hepatitis C to become apparent. Over the past few years testing, treatment and care have increased dramatically but we know there are many more people who are unaware they may have Hep C.
“I would urge anyone who has been at risk at any point in their lives to get in touch so they can receive specialist care. We are particularly keen to hear from anyone who tested positive for Hep C in the past and who may have either stopped their treatment or not sought further assistance.
“People exposed more than 20 years ago are at higher risk of advanced disease and new treatments could be beneficial. I am also keen to encourage anyone who had a blood transfusion prior to 1991 or who injected drugs when they were younger to get tested for Hep C.”
New antiviral treatments for Hepatitis C are proving very successful for Forth Valley patients. Health experts say they are more effective – 90 to 95 per cent compared with 70 to 75 per cent for traditional treatments – have fewer side effects and are taken for a shorter period, usually eight to 12 weeks, compared with three years).
They are also available in tablet form rather than having to be injected.
Dr Bramley added: “Many people may have been diagnosed in the past and may have started treatment but dropped out, particularly if they experienced side-effects or found it difficult to administer regular injections.
“These new drugs are far easier to take, have few side effects and could cure people of Hep C in a matter of months. This will not only make a huge difference to the health of the individuals affected but will also prevent them potentially passing the disease onto their partners.”
Testing continues to be offered at local mosques in the Forth Valley area as the Muslim community may have had medical treatment abroad or attended traditional barbers who use open blades which may have put them at risk of contracting Hep C.
Pilot testing schemes are also taking place in police custody suites and one of the local adult prisons. In addition, staff including community pharmacists, dentists and nurses are being trained to counsel local people and carry out testing if required.