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Hepatitis C diagnoses reach record levels across Lothian

http://www.scotsman.com/news/Hepatitis-C-diagnoses-reach-record.6436516.jpPremium Article !

ON THE RISE: Hepatitis C

Click on thumbnail to view image23 July 2010

By ADAM MORRIS

Health Reporter

THE number of cases of the potentially fatal liver disease hepatitis C is set to reach record levels in the Lothians.

It is expected nearly 300 new cases will be recorded before the end of the year, the highest in a decade and taking the total number of sufferers in the area to almost 10,000.

Figures from Health Protection Scotland showed there were 69 new diagnoses in the first three months of this year.

The majority of people who test positive for the disease are thought to have contracted it through injecting drugs, but it is possible to catch it in other ways.

It has been argued that public health initiatives to get more people tested is the reason for the rise, and that many testing positive have actually had the illness for several years.

However, the increase has also been blamed on complacency among drug users about associated health risks, and what is of most concern is the estimated 4500 in the Lothians who have the disease but do not know it.

A spokeswoman for the Hepatitis C Trust in Edinburgh said: "It sounds strange but actually the more diagnoses there are, the better.

"The biggest danger is those who are off the radar. You can't afford to wait until you get ill with hepatitis C to begin the treatment - the damage to the liver can be too much.

"The NHS and the Hepatitis C Trust have been doing a lot of outreach work to get to drug users and hopefully the numbers will eventually come down once we get more people screened."

Around 14 per cent of all Hepatitis C sufferers in Scotland have died since the outbreaks of the 1970s and 1980s.

Experts predicted earlier this year that a rise in liver deaths could be recorded in future years as the infection - which can lie dormant for up to two decades - catches up with people who dabbled in drug use in their youth.

Around 1000 recorded patients in the Lothians do not know how they caught it, while 300 cited "other" reasons which can include tattoos, sexual intercourse and even inheriting it from birth from a Hepatitis C positive mother.

One city centre GP, who did not want to be named, said it was not purely down to awareness.

"There is an element of that but it's very tricky to tell," he said. "The fact is there are more needles out there than ever and still a really low level of knowledge among drug users.

"I'd be surprised if a heroin addict knew about the risks of hepatitis C."