Ahead of World Hepatitis Day on Saturday 28 July, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding people who think they may be at risk from hepatitis infection to get tested. One in 12 people worldwide is living with either chronic hepatitis B or C.
The latest figures from the PHA show that laboratory reported cases of Hepatitis B and C in Northern Ireland have increased slightly since 2010. Latest figures show that in 2011 92 cases of hepatitis B and 113 cases of hepatitis C were recorded compared to 80 cases of hepatitis B and 106 of hepatitis C in 2010.
The hepatitis B infection is transmitted between people through contact with infected blood or other body fluids (i.e. saliva, semen and vaginal fluid). It is very unlikely that it can be contracted through kissing or sharing cutlery. The hepatitis C strain is spread through direct contact with infected blood; it is most commonly associated with intravenous drug use. It is very rarely passed on through other body fluids.
500 million people are living with chronic hepatitis B and C worldwide, but despite the huge numbers there is widespread ignorance of these diseases. People assume they are not at risk and as a result, they don’t come forward for testing and treatment.
The PHA is warning people that if you think you have been at risk, you should get tested.
Dr Maureen McCartney, Consultant in Health Protection, PHA, said: “The important thing to remember is that hepatitis can affect everyone. We are urging people to come forward and get tested if you think you could have been at risk from either hepatitis B or C.
“It is also important to know about how to avoid becoming infected. Currently the greatest risk of contracting the infection in the UK is through sharing equipment for injecting drugs. It is important to stress that people who shared needles years ago, even just once, may be infected and have been undiagnosed for years. Other risks include, having medical or dental treatment in foreign countries with high levels of hepatitis C, having had a blood transfusion before September 1991 or having had tattoo or body piercing with non-sterile equipment.
“A hepatitis B vaccine is available and routine immunisation of at-risk groups is recommended. A vaccine for hepatitis C is not available; however, treatment for hepatitis C is improving all the time.
“So if people think they may have been exposed to the virus, even if this was many years ago, talk to your GP or nurse and get tested.”
World Hepatitis Day aims to prompt people to think about the huge scale of hepatitis infection globally, about whether they may be at risk and if so, to get tested and also about how to avoid becoming infected. The long-term objective of the day is to prevent new infections and to deliver real improvements in health outcomes for people living with hepatitis B and C.
Notes to the editor
- PHA leaflet – Hepatitis C: could I be at risk? –http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/hepatitis-c-could-i-be-risk-english-and-6-translations
- For more information on hepatitis and to avoid becoming infected see – http://worldhepatitisalliance.org/AboutViralHepatitis/Prevention_Diagnosis_Treatment.aspx