New technology at St Mary’s Hospital and advances in medication have meant that 90 per cent of patients who had hepatitis C (HCV) were completely cured.
If left untreated, the condition can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.
The Isle of Wight NHS’s hepatology service has a new fibroscanner that looks for liver disease in patients, and it’s saved Islanders from having to visit Southampton.
Around 90 Isle of Wight patients are known to be HCV positive thanks to a two-year research project, which identified people who were completely unaware they had it.
At one time it was thought there were at least 200 people on the Island with undiagnosed hepatitis C.
Working with pharmacies and health services to improve access to testing has led to an increase in the number of people being tested, and patients testing positive being referred to the hepatology service at St Mary’s.
HCV is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact via:
• sharing unsterilised needles — particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs
• sharing razors and toothbrushes
• from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
• through unprotected sex — although this is very rare
The research, led by Dr Ryan Buchanan, Hepatology Research Fellow at St Mary’s Hospital, has been a real success story.
Speaking about the ongoing success of the research project, Dr Buchanan said: “Working with community pharmacies and other health services to make hepatitis testing much more accessible to people who do not traditionally engage with health services, has undoubtedly been the key to unlocking the door to getting people diagnosed and treated.
“But our work doesn’t stop here, we are now looking at how people are socially connected, for example friends of a friend who may have been exposed to hepatitis, in order to reach the people who are not getting the much needed treatment that could save their lives.”
Dr Leonie Grellier, consultant gastroenterologist at St Mary’s Hospital, said: “If caught early enough we are able to treat HCV much more effectively and patients stand an excellent chance of clearing the virus and making a full recovery.
“Previously the drugs were much less effective and the side effects were particularly unpleasant, but that is no longer the case.
“We are able to monitor our patients here and give the treatment and care they need locally which is what people want.”
Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to hepatitis C at some point can go along to their local pharmacy for a blood spot test. Testing is quick and easy and involves a simple finger-prick test. The results are available within two weeks.