Guidance hopes to raise hepatitis awareness

NICE aims to tackle the ignorance and barriers to effective testing of those at an increased risk of infection of hepatitis B or C in new draft guidance.

Services, organisations and practitioners should promote testing by measures such as raising awareness to the general public and identifying those most at risk, the guidance advises.

Professor Mike Kelly, NICE Director of Public Health, said a “general ignorance” has contributed to a lack of services and poor uptake of testing due to the “stigma surrounding hepatitis B and C”.

According to the Chief Medical Officer, around 180,000 people in the UK are now chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus – with a further 216,000 people chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne viruses that predominately infect the liver and can lead to chronic liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The draft guidance also recommends testing through contact tracing, testing in prisons and in drug services and commissioning viral hepatitis testing and treatment services.

Professor Kelly added that NICE hopes to raise “general awareness” on myths surrounding the virus within the guidance. “This is aimed at addressing any misconceptions about the risk of hepatitis B and C that can act as barriers to testing, including the belief that treatments are not effective and that treatment is not needed until the illness is advanced,” he said.

“It is also aimed at demystifying the risks of transmission among families, friends and colleagues of people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B or C, and in doing so reducing much of the stigma attached to the diseases.”

Final guidance is now expected towards the end of the year.