More than 1,000 undiagnosed with hep C

MORE than 1,000 people are thought to be infected with hepatitis C in Suffolk, new figures reveal today.

MORE than 1,000 people are thought to be infected with hepatitis C in Suffolk, new figures reveal today.

Statistics released in The Health Protection Agency's annual report on hepatitis C today show there is estimated to be 1,047 people carrying the infection who have not been formally diagnosed.

However the number of those diagnosed with the disease in the East of England region in 2008 was just 680.

Hepatitis C is a viral infection, which causes swelling of the liver. It is transmitted when the blood of an infected person mixes with a someone else's blood, most commonly by injecting drug use and the sharing of needles. As hepatitis C infection often shows no symptoms in the early years, many people remain undiagnosed until the disease has progressed to a more serious stage.

The report shows that newly diagnosed infections in the region increased by 10 per cent compared to the previous year. In total there have been 5,000 people diagnosed in the Eastern region over the last ten years.

Dr Torbjorn Sundkvist, the HPA's regional lead on hepatitis C, said: “Our predictions indicate that the future burden of this disease on the health service will be substantial if awareness, diagnosis and treatment do not increase.

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“Too many people remain undiagnosed. It is vital that we continue to raise awareness if individuals at risk of infection are to get tested and treated.”

Some infections can remain undiagnosed until end-stage liver disease is reached and a transplant becomes the only feasible option.

If diagnosed in the early stages, treatment can be offered that can clear the infection in more than half of those treated.

Dr Sundkvist added: “Liver disease is largely preventable and yet it continues to rise, unlike other major causes of death in the UK such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Tackling undiagnosed hepatitis C infections could have a major impact on the number of people suffering needlessly from liver disease in the future.”

Other groups at risk of infection include those who received a blood transfusion before September 1991 or blood products before 1986 in the UK.