Record number in Leeds tested for hepatitis C as city begins campaign to raise awareness of virus

A record number of people in Leeds have been tested for hepatitis C after a month-long campaign to raise awareness of the disease.

The Hepatitis C testing team at Forward Leeds

Some 481 people in May were tested for the virus across the city compared to 304 for the whole of 2020.

It comes as a national campaign was launched to increase awareness of the virus, which in 90 per cent of cases is caused by injecting drugs. The NHS estimate half of people who inject themselves with drugs have the virus, which if left untreated can cause cirrhosis of the liver, which can cause cancer.

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In the UK, an estimated 215,000 people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus, but many do not realise it as cases can be asymptomatic.

It can also be spread by sexual contact.

Untreated hepatitis C can also cause a range of other symptoms, such as: muscular pain and achy joints, pain in the abdominal and liver area, fatigue, depression, headaches, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, nausea and weight loss.

Testing has been done by Forward Leeds, a drug and alcohol service that works with people across West Yorkshire to help them manage addiction. Last year, testing figures were impacted by lockdown.

People living with hepatitis C across the city have been visiting the service’s hubs to encourage others to have testing.

Anthony Broderick, Hepatits C lead at Forward Leeds, said: “It’s been a fantastic achievement by all of our staff to get so many of the people who use our service tested.

“This national campaign has been a big help in raising awareness and working alongside the Hepatitis C Trust has been key.

“Testing can be done now by any trained member of staff at Forward Leeds and people can be immediately referred for treatment here at Forward Leeds if needed. Long-term our aim is to help Leeds ‘micro-eliminate’ hep C as they have done in other areas of England.”

John Fox from the Hepatitis C Trust said: “These testing figures are astounding. The Forward Leeds team have surpassed themselves and it’s been great working with them to achieve such high numbers of people getting tested.

"It’s possible to live with hepatitis C for a long time and never know you have the disease until it is too late. Treatment used to be very unpleasant with a limited chance of success. Luckily in the UK now we have a game-changing treatment with much better outcomes. Virtually everyone is cured with a simple course of tablets.”