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World Hepatitis Day 2021

28 July 2021 - Today is World Hepatitis Day, which takes place every year on 28 July to raise awareness of viral hepatitis and to influence change.

This year the theme is ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’. We spoke to Teresa Bowyer, a Viral Hepatitis Nurse at King’s, on the theme this year and what it means to her.

Teresa, can you tell us a bit about your role?

“I work as part of a wider team comprising of six nurses, a nurse consultant, pharmacists and doctors, to provide care for people with Hepatitis B or C. Currently, my work is based solely in Liver Outpatients at King’s College Hospital. I review people with Hepatitis B whether on treatment or not. I also see people on treatment for Hepatitis C and those who have cleared Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) but require ongoing surveillance for liver cancer due to underlying cirrhosis. I also see patients on the wards who are newly diagnosed with hepatitis C and link in with them for treatment.

“I’ve previously worked on our hepatitis C van, a joint venture with the Hep C Trust providing testing and treatment for Hepatitis C to people in homeless hostels and day centres, reaching people who may not have had access to testing and treatment otherwise. I’ve also previously done talks on Hepatitis B and testing for community groups, so it’s varied.”

Why’s it important to raise awareness of World Hepatitis Day?

“Often there is a lack of awareness of the risk factors and treatment for viral hepatitis. It does get enough publicity in the media so I hope World Hepatitis Day gets more publicity. Needless to say, as Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses there is still a stigma associated with them as well. Talking about viral hepatitis needs to be more normalised.

“It’s important to raise awareness of the risk factors so people can be tested if at risk. For several years there have been very good treatments for hepatitis C, but it used to be a lengthy course of treatment with lots of side effects and poor curative rates. Now it’s completely different, in the main just a course of usually once-daily tablet for 8 or 12 weeks with minimal if any side effects and excellent curative rates. Often people still aren’t aware of this.

“There is a treatment for Hepatitis B for those who need it. There are also a lot of clinical trials going on for Hepatitis B currently, many are happening at King’s College Hospital under King’s Hepatitis B Cure Programme. It’s good to be able to discuss this option with our patients and for them to have access to such clinical trials if they are interested.”

This year’s theme is ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait’. What does this mean to you?

“If people with Hepatitis B or C don’t know of their diagnosis – we know it’s underdiagnosed and often diagnosed late – there may be a risk of developing liver disease and cirrhosis over time. There may also be a risk of liver cancer, so clearly it is better for people to know of their diagnosis early so they can receive the appropriate care. Many people are asymptomatic, viral hepatitis is often referred to as the silent disease, so it’s important to test people if they have risk factors.

“The World Health Organisation aims to achieve a 90% reduction in incidence in viral hepatitis and a 65% reduction in mortality by 2030. NHS England aims to eradicate Hepatitis C by 2025, so for several years, our viral hepatitis team has offered treatment in different settings, drug and alcohol centres, prisons, on the hepatitis C van mentioned above as well as Liver Outpatients Department.”

What more can we do to raise awareness of hepatitis and hepatitis testing?

“I think raising education is key, especially awareness of the risk factors so then people can be tested. We need to break down barriers to enable more open conversations about viral hepatitis.“