A major conference in Dublin this weekend (Saturday 29th February) will hear that community and GP services are vital in the elimination of the Hepatitis C Virus infection which affects up to 30,000 people living in Ireland.
Hepatitis C expert and GP, Dr Des Crowley, who will convene the conference, said that the key message is that treatment for Hepatitis C is effective if administered in time.
- Over 70 million people globally are infected with chronic Hepatitis C Virus HCV infection, with 20,000-30,000 of these living in Ireland. Many of those infected remain untested and are unaware of their status. It is estimated that 60% of HCV infection persons in Ireland remain undiagnosed.
- Chronically infected individuals are at risk of serious long-term health consequences, including; liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and cancer
- Individuals may become infected from intravenous drug use, getting a tattoo in non-sterile conditions or having a medical procedure or transfusion in a developing country.
- In Ireland, HCV transmission has occurred through infected blood and blood products with the majority of these infections occurring between the 1970s and the early 1990s.
- More recently injecting heroin is the main risk factor with some studies reporting a HCV prevalence between 60%-80% among Irish people who inject drugs. There are also high levels of HCV infection in Irish prisoners (13%).
- HCV infection is primarily asymptomatic (no symptoms) both in the acute and early chronic stages. Symptomatic acute HCV infection occurs in only about 15% of those infected.
- One third of infected individuals do not have detectable antibodies at the onset of symptoms. Approximately 30% of those exposed to HCV will clear the virus without treatment (self-clearance). Chronic HCV Infection is defined as ongoing active infection six months after initial exposure.
- Diagnosis is by a simple serum blood test sent to the National Virus Reference Laboratory.
- HCV treatment has been revolutionised in the past five years by the availability of direct acting anti-virals (DAAs) and mobile elastography (fibroscaning). DAAs have been available in Ireland since 2014. Initial availability was on clinical need, but since early 2016, DAAs are available free of charge to all patients living with chronic HCV infection.
- Recently, there was a move to develop community treatment services based in local drug treatment services and primary care. These initiatives have proven to be successful, with cure rates equal to specialist services, engaging hundreds of patients that previously failed to attend hospital-based services and demonstrating that HCV treatment can be provided safely and effectively by community GPs and pharmacists.
HCV treatment in Ireland is underpinned by the National HCV Strategy and is managed centrally by the National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme (NHCTP).
If you are interested in learning more about HCV treatment please contact your GP for further information on community services and supports in your area.