Help eliminate hepatitis
On World Hepatitis Day (28 July) the Public Health Agency is supporting the World Hepatitis Alliance campaign message to eliminate hepatitis.
In May 2016, the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) on viral hepatitis 2016–2021. This calls for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030 (reducing new infections by 90% and deaths by 65%). Hepatitis B and C are responsible for 96% of all hepatitis deaths.
One of the most important ways to eliminate hepatitis is to encourage testing so people who are infected can access treatment.
The hepatitis B and C viruses are spread by contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.
Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at PHA, explained: “Despite not being common in Northern Ireland, hepatitis B and C are extremely serious, potentially life-threatening infections.
“Hepatitis C is more commonly associated with sharing needles or equipment for injecting drugs. It can also be spread by having had a tattoo or body piercing using non-sterile equipment as well as injecting drugs. We are seeing an increase in people who inject drugs becoming infected with hepatitis C, so we would urge anyone who has injected drugs at any time, including steroids or tanning products, to get tested.
“There are now new and very effective treatments available for hepatitis C leading to more than 90% of people treated being cured.
“We are encouraging people to come forward for testing if they could potentially be at risk of having contracted hepatitis.
“Hepatitis C is a disease that people can have for many years without developing any symptoms. However, it can be passed on to other people during this time and can lead to liver damage (cirrhosis) and liver cancer."
It is also important to know about how to avoid becoming infected. You can reduce your risk of infection by:
- Practising safer sex.
- Avoiding getting tattoos abroad where hygiene standards may not be good.
- Not sharing personal materials that may come into contact with blood (for example, needles, razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers) Injecting equipment can be obtained from various needle exchange sites across Northern Ireland to reduce the risk.
- Getting vaccinated against hepatitis B if you are in a risk group
If you’re worried about hepatitis B or C talk to your GP about getting tested. For information leaflets on hepatitis visit www.pha.site/publications and search “hepatitis”.
Notes to editors
- Viral hepatitis is a group of infectious diseases known as hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. It kills 4,000 people every day worldwide and, although not very common in Northern Ireland, it is estimated 400 million people across the globe are infected. These infections can be prevented, but most people don't know how.
- In 2016, 101 people were newly diagnosed with hepatitis B and 111 with hepatitis C in Northern Ireland.