Hepatitis C rises amongst intravenous drug users in Wales

Hepatitis C
Image caption The Hepatitis C Trust says an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 people in Wales have the virus but do not realise

The number of intravenous drug users with hepatitis C in Wales is increasing, figures show.

The Hepatitis C Trust says a survey of people in Wales who inject drugs revealed 39% had the disease, which is transmitted by infected blood.

But the figures were higher in England at 45% and Scotland at 55%.

In 2011, 384 people in Wales had hepatitis C, chronic liver disease or liver cancer compared with 78 in 1997. Hepatitis C can be asymptomatic.

The trust says an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 people in Wales are thought to have the disease but do not realise it.

Hospital admissions in Wales for conditions caused by hepatitis C have risen from seven in 1997 to 60 in 2011.

Intravenous drug use is the single largest cause of transmission of the virus.

Although there is no vaccine to protect against infection, there is effective treatment available.

More than 250,000 people in the UK are infected with hepatitis C, but eight out of 10 do not know they have it, the trust says.

'Huge strides'

About 75% of these people in the UK go on to develop chronic hepatitis because they have not been tested for it.

The Welsh government launched the Blood Borne Viral Hepatitis Action Plan in April 2010, which aimed to increase diagnosis, improve treatment and raise awareness of the disease.

Dr Marion Lyons, director of Health Protection for Public Health Wales, said there had been "huge strides" in progressing the action plan.

Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: "Wales is leading the way by enacting the World Health Organisation's recommendation for all countries to produce a national strategy for the prevention of viral hepatitis.

"The majority of those with the disease don't realise they have it, so it is very positive that the government is now focussing on raising awareness to prevent needless deaths.

"People need to understand how to protect themselves and go to their GP if they have ever been at risk."

A liver health programme was launched earlier this year in Welsh prisons and further research is being carried out.

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