95% of people with Hepatitis C or B are unaware that they have it, according to the World Heath Organisation (WHO).
Today is World Hepatitis Day but new figures from the WHO show that a staggering number of people with hepatitis B and C are unaware that they have it.
One reason for this is that people can live without any symptoms for many years. When they find out they have hepatitis, it is often too late for treatment to be fully effective.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis infection - ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, life-long illness.
It is a blood borne virus and the most common modes of infection are through unsafe injection practices, inadequate sterilization of medical equipment, and the transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products.
Nicola Perry is general manager of Community Response - an alcohol and hepatitis C service.
She says that there is a need for greater public awareness about the virus.
“Hepatitis C is often misunderstood by the public. It can be confused with hepatitis A or B where there are vaccines available. Hepatitis C cannot currently be vaccinated against and can lead to a long-term infection.
"People need to be aware how hepatitis C is contracted and get tested if they feel they could be at risk.”
The symptoms associated with Hepatitis C can easily go unnoticed at first but the longer a person has Hepatitis C the more likely they are to notice symptoms. The most common symptom for many people is extreme tiredness or chronic fatigue.
Joint and muscle pain are also very common. Many people complain of headaches. Some people with Hepatitis C have skin rashes or irritation or dryness of the eyes, others have abdominal discomfort, sometimes with fluid retention.
Some people have difficulty in concentrating and sleeping. Other people have yellowing of the skin or of the whites of the eyes.
According to the WHO, antiviral medicines can cure approximately 90% of persons with hepatitis C infection and while there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, research in this area is ongoing.
It is estimated that between 130 to 150 million people worldwide have a chronic hepatitis C infection.
The figures resealed by the WHO today also show that 95% of those with hepatitis B are also unaware they are infected. Unlike Hepatitis C, Hep B can be vaccinated against along with the hepatitis A virus.
Hepatitis B and C are both spread through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person - while hep A is transmitted through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person, making this chain of the virus the most easily contracted.
Picture by: Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP/Press Association Images
Not only is it World Hepatitis Day, this week is National Hepatitis C Awareness Week in Ireland - and to help raise awareness, the Hepatitis C Partnership has launched its 'Know Your F-ing Story' campaign.
The HepC Partnership promote the importance of outreach in the community to improve links to care and treatment for those affected by hepatitis C.
The project is to use the “Fibrovan” mobile testing unit to scan individuals in an outreach/community setting. The Fibroscan device is used to measure the health of a person’s liver. This will be used to promote the messages of knowing your “F” score, which essentially is an indication of how healthy your liver is.
The Fibrovan will be visiting Coolmine Theraputic Community, Merchant’s Quay Ireland and a HSE Clinic on Castle Street in Dublin.