48% of people who inject drugs in UK unaware they have hepatitis C

19 November 2015

A recent report has revealed that almost half of people who inject drugs in the United Kingdom are unaware they have hepatitis C.

Co-infection of hepatitis C and HIV can result in a higher chance of developing liver damage, compared to people living with hepatitis C alone. Liver disease is now a major cause of hospital admission and death amongst people living with HIV, due to hepatitis-related problems. However there is evidence that HIV treatment can slow the progression of hepatitis C, so it is essential that people are tested for both diseases and start treatment as soon as possible.

The report by Public Health England (PHE), entitled Shooting Up, showed some encouraging data. HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs (PWID) is down slightly in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – from 1.2% to 1% between 2011 and 2014. In England the sharing of used needles and syringes has fallen from 28% to 16% from 2004 to 2014.

These encouraging statistics relating to HIV prevalence amongst PWID highlight the positive impact of local prevention interventions. Dr Fortune Ncube, Consultant Epidemiologist and Head of the Blood Borne Virus Section said, “The most effective way to decrease levels of infection among people who inject drugs is through the provision of quality interventions such as needle and syringe programmes, opiate substitution therapy and other drug treatment services.”

However, a distinction must be made between those who inject psychoactive drugs and those who inject image/performance enhancing drugs. Whilst 77% of people in the UK who inject psychoactive drugs were found to have been tested for HIV at least once, only 41% of people who inject image/performance enhancing drugs had been tested for HIV.

If HIV and hepatitis C prevalence amongst PWID are to be deceased further, then greater levels of education are needed to inform people who inject image/performance enhancing drugs of the risks of sharing used needles and syringes.

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