One In Five UK Drug Users Unaware They Have Hep C

By John Lavitt 11/06/14

Despite the high rate of infection in the UK, the rates in the U.S. are even higher.

sharing needle.jpg

According to Public Health England (PHE), about 20% of people in the United Kingdom who inject drugs do not know they have hepatitis C infections.

Ninety percent of the 13,570 people diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2013 in the United Kingdom had injected drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines. The United States fares much worse with an even higher percentage of unaware HCV-infected people.

In fact, the rates of the unaware infected in the United States are between two to four times higher than the British rates, according to the Hepatitis C Online website. In a subsection of the HCV Incidence and Prevalence page, “Awareness of HCV Infection Status,” the following statistics are grimly revealed:

An estimated 40 to 85% of persons infected with HCV are unaware of their HCV infection status. One study reported that among HCV-infected injection drug users who were 15 to 30 years old, 72% were unaware of their HCV infection status. A more recent NHANES study conducted from 2001 through 2008 found that 50.3% of persons infected with HCV were unaware of their status. In a study involving persons with access to medical care in four private health care organizations during the years 2006 to 2008, an estimated 43% were unaware of their HCV infection.

The HCV infection attacks the liver and can lead to liver cancer cirrhosis, and the need for a transplant. Spread through the blood of an infected person, more than 200,000 people in the UK currently have the infection, and the majority of those are injection drug users. PHE believes early diagnosis was key to prevent the disease being spread and called for medical interventions and widespread testing to spread infections earlier.

Given the public health model in England and the greater frequency of such preventative testing measures, the significant difference in HCV awareness rates between the United States and the United Kingdom actually is not surprising. Despite the Affordable Care Act, the American health system remains reactive at its essence as opposed to being preventative.

Hepatitis C needs to be diagnosed and treated early in the infection process in order to prevent permanent liver damage and the resulting negative health consequences. Without an emphasis on widespread testing in both countries, more and more British nationals and American citizens will be facing the dire consequences of the hepatitis C virus in the future.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.