Scotland

New organisation launched to help prevent hepatitis

A new voluntary organisation has been launched to help improve the prevention of the highly-infectious hepatitis B and C viruses.

An estimated 50,000 people in Scotland carry the hepatitis C strain, which can lead to serious illness and even death if untreated.

But it is thought up to 60% of those with hepatitis remain undiagnosed.

The numbers being diagnosed with the viruses are at record levels, with 1,000 new cases identified in 2010.

The new organisation, Hepatitis Scotland, has been established with £200,000 of funding from the Scottish government.

Hepatitis Scotland estimated 1% of the country's population is infected with hepatitis C - double the rate in England.

It said hepatitis C was a major challenge, with many of those infected not realising they had the virus - even though the majority went on to develop chronic symptoms.

The viruses are transmitted through blood-to-blood and sexual contact, as well as through the sharing of contaminated needles in drug injecting or unregulated tattooing and body-piercing.

Hepatitis causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to serious illness and death if left untreated.

A vaccine is available for the less common B strain, which affects about 9,000 Scots, but not for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis Scotland aims to increase the number of people diagnosed with both strains of the virus and improve the treatment available.

It will also offer support to patients and their families while they are being treated.

'Gruelling' treatment

David Liddell, director of the Scottish Drugs Forum, which will manage the new organisation, said people needed easy access to a wide range of support.

"In particular, undergoing treatment for Hepatitis C can be gruelling, so patients may need help for social needs arising while they are being treated," he said.

"Hepatitis Scotland will assist the voluntary sector to play a key role in providing this wider support. The aim is to ensure that people who are at risk from, or living with, viral hepatitis get the help they need."

The establishment of Hepatitis Scotland is part of the government's strategy on sexual health and blood borne virus disease.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said: "We have led the world in our response to viral hepatitis.

"The new funding awarded to Scottish Drugs Forum for the delivery of Hepatitis Scotland is a key part of our continued commitment to delivering best quality, joined-up treatment and prevention services for those suffering from or at risk of viral hepatitis."

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