Find the missing millions: 300 million people worldwide are living with viral hepatitis and many are unaware that they have it.
To mark World Hepatitis Day, which falls on Saturday 28th July, Minister of State for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne TD, has launched the HSE’s new patient-focused online resource for information on hepatitis C - www.hse.ie/hepc.
The HSE and Minister Byrne both strongly encourage anyone who might be concerned about their risk of having contracted hepatitis C in the past - for example if they had a needle stick injury, or ever used intravenous drugs (even if only once) – to contact their healthcare provider and get tested. World Hepatitis Day 2018 comes at a critical point in the HSE’s National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme’s journey towards making hepatitis C a rare disease in Ireland.
300 million people worldwide are living with viral hepatitis, and many are unaware that they have it. This year on World Hepatitis Day, the HSE is supporting the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call to people from across the world to take action, raise awareness and join in the quest to find the “missing millions”. In Ireland, it is estimated that around 20,000-30,000 people are living with hepatitis C, but three out of five of them haven’t been diagnosed yet. By the end of 2017, 14,704 cases of hepatitis C were notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) since hepatitis C became a notifiable disease in 2004.
Hepatitis C is often referred to as a silent disease as symptoms can take several years to develop, so people do not realise that they have the disease and are at risk of serious complications if they remain undiagnosed and untreated.
Speaking about World Hepatitis Day, Minister of State for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne TD said: “I am pleased to launch the HSE’s new online resource today. Hepatitis C is curable and treatment is free, and this new website provides detailed information about where to get tested and where to get treatment. World Hepatitis Day is a reminder to people who think they are at risk of hepatitis C or may have been in the past to get tested. Hepatitis C often doesn't have any clear symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged. This means many people are infected without realising it”.
The aim of the new online resource is provide accurate, easy-to-understand information to people who may be at risk or who were possibly at risk in the past of contracting hepatitis C. This is the HSE’s first patient-focused online resource for information on hepatitis C. The resource aims to help people better understand the symptoms of hepatitis C and how it can be treated and prevented.
“I would encourage people to use the information on www.hse.ie/hepc if they think they have been at risk of contracting hepatitis C or are unsure of the risks and get information on where they can be tested. There are highly effective drugs available to treat people infected with hepatitis C in Ireland but the main challenge is that many people with hepatitis C remain undiagnosed”, says Clinical Lead to the HSE National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme, Professor Aiden McCormick.
“We know that without finding the undiagnosed and linking them to treatment, people living with hepatitis C will continue to suffer, and lives will be lost. The aim of the National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme is to provide access to treatment for everyone in Ireland infected with hepatitis C. In fact we are aiming to make hepatitis C a rare disease in Ireland by 2026 and exceed the WHO target of elimination by 2030”.
Speaking in advance of World Hepatitis Day, Michele Tait, Programme Manager for the National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme, said: “Acknowledging World Hepatitis Day and participating in awareness activities is important for everyone affected by hepatitis C and for everyone working to support people who are infected. The day helps us to raise awareness as there are thousands of people in Ireland who are infected but unaware. So far over 2,500 patients have been provided with treatment since 2015 using new drugs with cure rates in excess of 95%. An 8-12 week course of tablets for the treatment of Hepatitis C, with no side effects, is a real-game changer for patients. All persons infected with hepatitis C through contaminated blood and blood products have now been offered treatment with cure rates as high as 97% of cases”.