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RCGP publishes new guidance on managing Hepatitis C

RCGP (The Royal College Of General Practitioners) : 06 June, 2007  (New Product)
The Royal College of General Practitioners has launched new guidance to health professionals aimed at improving the management of Hepatitis C in primary care.
Produced for GPs, practice nurses and clinicians working in primary care, the document aims to increase awareness and prevention of Hepatitis C (HCV) transmission along with improved testing, diagnosis and treatment for patients who are already infected.

It is estimated that between 0.4 to 1 percent of the UK population are infected with HCV, equating to 250,000 to 600,000 sufferers.

Early treatment of chronic hepatitis C (CHC) is more effective at clearing the virus in 50 to 80 percent of people, depending on their genotype, but Britain currently has a poor record in treating patients with CHC - out of the total population infected fewer than 17 percent have been diagnosed and it is estimated that only about one in 20 of those who are diagnosed are being treated each year.

The main risk for infection in the UK is current or past injecting drug use.
Other risks include receipt of blood transfusion (prior to 1991) or being born or receiving healthcare in a high risk country.

The guidance warns that unless testing and early treatment is made more available, the virus is likely to cost the NHS up to 8billion over the next 30 years as increasing numbers of people will require treatment for cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancers.

Dr Chris Ford, continuing professional development lead for the RCGP Substance Misuse Unit, a member of the RCGP Sex, Drugs and HIV Task Group and lead author of the Hepatitis C guidance, says, 'Early symptoms of hepatitis C infection are unusual so many people may not realise they have caught the virus, but we know that early treatment is more effective before liver damage has occurred'.

Every GP is likely to have between eight to 18 infected individuals on their patient list so it is essential that we working in general practice strengthen our knowledge about this disease, increase our testing and encourage those who test positive to attend for early treatment.

We hope that the guidance will be useful in bringing about this change.

'We would also encourage primary care practitioners to complete the Hepatitis C e-module that we have recently developed so that they can put their knowledge of the infection to the test'.

'Guidance for the prevention, testing, treatment and management of hepatitis C in primary care' is available to download from the RCGP web site.
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