King’s College Hospital is using new, licensed treatments, which have high cure rates and few side-effects, to treat Hepatitis C in the local community.
There is a high prevalence of Hepatitis C – a 'slow burning' inflammation of the liver – in Lambeth and Southwark. More than 6,500 people are thought to be living with the condition, according to figures from Public Health England. It is estimated that 58,000 people in London are infected with Hepatitis C. Forty percent of all cases are still undiagnosed.
The new therapy, which comes in tablet form rather than old-style injections, is extremely effective and better tolerated than the previous treatment - complete cure is possible in 95% of cases compared to around 50% of cases previously. The new treatment is easier for patients to tolerate and take - it has very few side-effects compared to the severe reactions associated with the old treatment, which included hair loss, limb swelling and extreme anxiety.
To celebrate the development in treatment and mark World Hepatitis Day, which falls on 28 July, King’s is highlighting the steps being taken to proactively tackle the high occurrence of Hepatitis C locally. Alongside other NHS organisations in south-east London and Kent, the hospital is engaged in a project to encourage people who might be at risk of Hepatitis C to get tested for the condition.
Dr Kosh Agarwal, Consultant Liver Specialist at King’s said, “Recently, there has been a step-change in the way we treat Hepatitis C. Advances have meant that treatment is quicker, more effective and has virtually no side-effects.
“But, as with many conditions, early detection is vital. Testing is quick and simple, and access to the new treatment is straightforward. I’d urge anyone who thinks they might have been exposed to the Hepatitis C virus or who is displaying symptoms, such as jaundice, extreme tiredness and stomach pain to go to their GP and ask to be tested.”
Mother of one, Ruth Holt, 66, from Camberwell contracted the infection in the 1970s when she was living in a commune in London where residents shared everything, including toothbrushes, razors and needles.
Talking about her diagnosis and treatment Ruth said, “I was checked for Hepatitis in the early 90s but testing wasn’t as accurate then and my results came back negative. My husband was tested a few years later and his results came back positive so I assumed I was too. We decided not to get help until the symptoms became really bad because we’d heard horror stories about the treatment’s side-effects.
“When we eventually did get treated the side-effects were horrific. I couldn’t walk, I felt sick and my mouth was covered in scabs. It did manage to clear the infection but I had a recurrence a few months later and was put on a clinical trial at King’s using the new treatment. The difference was phenomenal. I didn’t experience any adverse effects, in fact I slept much better, and the treatment worked. I’ve been clear of Hep C for 18 months – it’s amazing.”
If left untreated Hepatitis C can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage to the liver. This stage, termed 'cirrhosis' is characterised by a yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, known as jaundice.
Individuals who might have been exposed to Hepatitis C include those who received a blood transfusion before screening was introduced in 1991 or received blood products before 1986; people who have injected drugs or received piercings or tattoos or medical care with unsterilised equipment; people born or raised in a country with high prevalence Hepatitis C including countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean; those living in homeless hostels or sleeping on the streets; and men who have sex with men.
Transmission is through infected blood. Carriers can infect other people if they share anything that might have blood on such as a toothbrush or razor. Pregnant women with the virus can pass it on to their baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
King’s College Hospital also treats the other liver conditions, including Hepatitis B and fatty liver disease, and is one of the largest liver transplant units in Europe.