18,000 people may not know they have hepatitis C

Some drug users may have become infected with hepatitis C without knowing. Picture (posed by model): Toby Williams
Some drug users may have become infected with hepatitis C without knowing. Picture (posed by model): Toby Williams
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Enough people to fill a town the size of Cowdenbeath have been unwittingly infected with potentially fatal hepatitis C, charities have warned.

Drug users from the “baby boomer” and “generation X” years in the 70s, 80s and 90s are key targets for a new hepatitis C awareness campaign entitled The Big Red C.

An estimated 18,000 Scots are unaware they have contracted Hepatitis C, according the campaign organisers.

The campaign slogan is: “Ever injected? Get tested. Hep C - it can be cured.”

People who have used unsterilised needles, either recently or just a single time many years ago, are amongst the campaign’s targets. These may include people injecting steroids or tanning products.

Campaign

Although symptoms may not appear for many years, Hepatitis C can cause liver damage potentially leading to cirrhosis, cancer and death.

Big Red C bus advertisements will be rolled out today in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, alongside a washroom poster campaign in Dundee and a website.

Leon Wylie, lead officer of campaign leader Hepatitis Scotland, said: “It is vitally important that anyone who has ever injected drugs, even once, accesses testing.

“Up to 15,000 of those 18,000 estimated to be infected are no longer injecting drugs. So people who used or experimented with injecting drugs in the 70s, 80s and 90s - the so-called Baby Boomer and Generation X - may not be aware that they could be carrying the virus. This makes them one of the key target groups for the new campaign.

Tested

“You can get tested at your GP or local Sexual Health Clinic - it is just an easy pin-prick blood test. Hepatitis C can be treated but if not in the long term it can cause life threatening liver problems, including cancer.”

Grant Sugden, chief executive of campaign partner Waverley Care, said: “It is so important that people who think they may have contracted Hepatitis C step forward and get tested. Early diagnosis means that people can get treated sooner which can help to prevent long term health problems.

“Testing is free and confidential and there is a range of support services in Scotland, including Waverley Care, who can help people through treatment. We understand that a Hepatitis C diagnosis is more than just the medical aspects of the condition. We want people to know there is emotional and practical support out there for them also.”