Hepatitis C group launches to aid thousands of Edinburgh victims

A NEW support service for hepatitis C sufferers in the Capital is to launch after it emerged there could be as many as 6,000 affected people in Edinburgh.

Latest figures show that more than 3,000 people are known to be living with the potentially deadly infection in the Lothians, with the same number probably undiagnosed.

Now the Hepatitis C Trust – until now predominantly an England-based charity – has sourced a Capital base and will officially open later this month.

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It is hoped the headquarters, in Charlotte Square, will not only help those living with the disease, but raise sufficient awareness of the illness and its symptoms to unearth others who have unwittingly contracted it.

Removing the stigma around the disease and the lifestyle of those who catch it is also a pressing matter.

Charles Gore, chief executive of the organisation, which is staffed and governed almost entirely by patients, said: "We are delighted to celebrate the launch of the Hepatitis C Trust's first Scottish office.

"The trust is committed to raising the awareness of the disease and highlighting the advantages of getting tested for hepatitis C.

"If undiagnosed and not successfully treated, hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer."

Health Protection Scotland recently revealed the scale of the disease in the Lothians.

Although the number of new cases each year fluctuates – there were 200 last year – it is thought there are more people than ever living with it in the area.

Intravenous drug use is a main cause of the disease, which can also be sexually transmitted and passed through blood under other circumstances.

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The charity's Scottish officer, Petra Wright, herself a sufferer, explained that the disease can catch up on people years after they come into contact with it.

The 55-year-old from Bo'ness caught it after "stupid" drug use in her youth, and she was working in marketing 25 years later when the diagnosis was made.

She said: "It was a real shock for me because I had no idea.

"I'd been healthy, and all of a sudden it catches up on you and you never think it would.

"I decided to work for the organisation and be quite public and open about it, just to try and reduce some of the stigma surrounding it and help other people.

"I felt quite alone at the time and one of the reasons I've helped set up (the organisation] in Scotland is so people can know more about it, and not be shy to face up to it.

"We're not saying it's a great thing to have it, but if you're diagnosed it is by no means a death sentence.

"There is good treatment around, and more on the horizon."

• www.hepctrust.org.uk

• www.hps.scot.nhs.uk