England: 100000 Unaware They Have Hep C

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Around a third of people don't know how hepatitis C can be passed from person to person, according to new research commissioned by the Department of Health.

The findings come as a major hepatitis C awareness campaign is launched to reach out to the estimated 100,000 people in England who are unaware they have the infection and stop others getting it.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can cause chronic infection and lead to serious liver damage and even premature death.

The ICM poll reveals that:

- nearly one in four people don't know that hepatitis C can be passed on by sharing needles when injecting drugs;

- around 4 in 10 people don't know that they can catch hepatitis C by using unsterile equipment when getting a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture;

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- one in eight think that hepatitis C can be passed on by kissing;

- about one in six think consuming contaminated food or water can transmit the virus; and

- a third of respondents mistakenly believe that there is a vaccine to protect against infection with hepatitis C.

Radio and press advertising will remind the public of life experiences that could have exposed them to infection such as injecting drugs or getting tattoos where equipment may not have been sterile. The campaign coincides with the 20th anniversary of the virus being identified.

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said: "Around 100,000 people in England are estimated to be unaware that they have hepatitis C. It can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear, if at all, and if left untreated can lead to liver damage and premature death.

"Fortunately, effective treatment is available, so it's vital that people who may have been at risk of infection seek medical advice and get tested."

Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust said: "Twenty years down the line, it's worrying to see the public still believe so many myths around hepatitis C. Education is absolutely essential to eradicating this problem. We are pleased to see the Department of Health campaigning on this issue, but it's now time for both the public and health professionals to take action. We'd urge anyone who feels they might be at risk to get tested, and health professionals to be vigilant to diagnosing patients."

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