Project aims to tackle hepatitis C infections

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A MAJOR project to tackle hepatitis C infections among people in Tayside who inject drugs has been launched by the University of Dundee, in collaboration with NHS Tayside.

The project aims to bring down rates of hepatitis C infection among a population where it has been a significant and entrenched problem, with consequent impacts on public health and financial cost to the NHS.

It is hoped that by giving early treatment to small numbers of people who inject drugs and are infected with hepatitis C, it will prevent the need to treat larger numbers later.

This will help reduce instances of liver cirrhosis and cancer, which can develop over time if hepatitis C is not treated.

The £2.2 million project is funded by the Scottish Government and the companies Janssen and Roche.

“Hepatitis C is a disease which consumes a significant amount of resource in the NHS,” said Dr John Dillon, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Consultant Hepatologist, who is leading the project.

“The general thinking in recent times has been that the population of people who inject drugs is generally too unstable and consists of people with lives which are too chaotic to allow for the sort of sustained treatment that Hepatitis C needs to achieve a cure.

“However, our view is that with the right approach, supported with appropriate resources, we can tackle what is a very significant problem and reduce the rates of hepatitis C infection.”

Hepatitis C has been a particular problem among people who inject drugs as it can be easily spread through contact with blood, so shared drug paraphernalia such as needles present a significant risk.

Dr Dillon and colleagues hope to recruit 100 patients with hepatitis C over the next five years. They will be enrolled in a programme of treatment delivered through existing frontline specialist services.

Hepatitis C is a virus that is carried in the blood and predominantly affects the liver.

It can cause inflammation, scarring and sometimes significant cirrhosis damage to the liver. Cirrhosis increases the risk of developing liver cancer and can even lead to liver failure.

About 20 per cent of people living with hep C will fight off the infection without treatment and, as a result, it will be naturally cleared from their bodies leaving no long-term effects.

However, for most people who have hep C it is a chronic condition which means that it can cause liver damage for a long period of time often over 20-30 years.

It can be present for many years without any symptoms at all.