Call for West Midlands to be hepatitis aware and ‘get tested’

Public Health England (PHE) in the West Midlands has joined forces with the local NHS, Birmingham City Council and the Hepatitis C Trust to raise awareness of hepatitis and promote the message for people to ‘get tested’.

It is estimated that over 5,000 people in Birmingham are living with hepatitis C, however half are undiagnosed. Following World Hepatitis Day (28 July), public health partners have come together to raise awareness of the ‘silent killer’, with two events this week in Birmingham:

  • Friday 14 August, 10am to 5pm – Ghamkol Sharif Mosque 

150 Golden Hillock Road, Small Health, Birmingham, B10 0DX

  • Sunday 16 August, 12pm to 6pm – Birmingham Eid Mela

Cannon Hill Park Edgbaston, Birmingham, B13 8RD

At both events, health professionals will be available to give advice, there will be leaflets in a variety of languages for people to take away, and there will be free on-the-spot hepatitis C tests provided by the Hepatitis C Trust.

Dr Mamoona Tahir, PHE West Midlands health protection consultant and lead for blood borne viruses (BBVs), said: “Hepatitis C is a major public health issue in the UK; around half of the 216,000 people living with the virus are undiagnosed. Hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, but if diagnosed and treated, it can be cured in over 80 per cent of cases. Due to low levels of awareness and the virus often showing no symptoms until liver damage has occurred, hepatitis C is often referred to as a ‘silent’ epidemic.

“Many immigrant communities are disproportionately affected by hepatitis, so we are working in partnership with the Hepatitis C Trust, the local NHS and Birmingham City Council to raise awareness among BME (black and minority ethnic) communities in the West Midlands. The aim is to provide information, help people get diagnosed and onto treatment and try to remove any stigma associated with hepatitis.”

Shabana Begum, from the Hepatitis C Trust, will be at the mosque and Mela offering tests alongside local doctors and nurses. Shabana said: “Hepatitis C is a serious public health issue in Birmingham. It’s worrying that so few people have been diagnosed, when there are treatments available that can cure the virus in many patients.

“I had hepatitis C for more than 20 years before I was diagnosed. Lack of awareness and stigma mean that many people are living with the virus and suffering serious liver damage unaware. If people who have been at risk of infection get tested and treated, we could effectively eliminate the virus in the UK over the next 15 years.”

Look for posts using #PreventHepatitis on Twitter for information on hepatitis and the events.

For more information contact PHE West Midlands press office on 0121 232 9223


Notes to Editors

1. There are three main viruses that attack the liver: hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. They are all different:

  • Hepatitis A: is caught from infected water or food and although it can be serious, it only lasts for a short time. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A and it is advisable to get vaccinated before travelling to areas such as Asia, the Middle-East, Africa or Eastern Europe (check with GP/travel clinic).
  • Hepatitis B: is not caught from infected water or food but from infected blood or other body fluids. It often becomes an ongoing disease that could lead to liver cancer. Treatment is available to reduce the chance of developing serious disease. There is also a vaccine to prevent hepatitis B infection. This should be given to household members of all cases. The vaccination consists of several doses and it is important to have them all.
  • Hepatitis C: is not caught from infected water or food but from infected blood. It is very unusual to catch through sexual intercourse. It can be caught during medical procedures, dentistry, tattooing etc in many countries outside the UK. In most cases it becomes an ongoing disease that could lead to liver cancer. Treatment available but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C. A hepatitis A or B vaccination will not protect from hepatitis C.
  • There are 500 million people worldwide with chronic hepatitis B or C infection, and both viruses are common in large parts of the world including South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), as well as Africa, Eastern Europe and China.
  • It is important to get tested for hepatitis B and C, if exposed to any of the risk factors, because they can lead to liver cancer. It is particularly important because there may be no symptoms and the person could infect others without realising.     

2. About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, yet approximately half of those living with the condition are undiagnosed. If caught early it can be treated and cured. People are at risk of transmission through the following routes:

  • medical and dental procedures in South Asia
  • blood transfusions prior to 1992
  • unsterile tattoos, piercings, circumcision or head shaving at birth
  • injecting drugs, even once
  • other blood to blood contact

3. The Hepatitis C Trust is the only UK-wide charity focused on hepatitis C, supporting the estimated 216,000 people living with the virus and those at risk of infection. It is led and driven by people with personal experience of hepatitis C. The Trust is committed to increasing prevention, diagnosis and treatment with a view to eliminating the virus in the UK within 15 years. The Trust achieves this by raising awareness, driving policy and providing testing, training and support. 

4. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health.

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