Hepatitis C ‘eliminated’ in Wirral

By Ed Barnes – Local Democracy Reporter with additional reporting by Birkenhead News.

An infection that can lead to liver failure in severe cases has been “eliminated” from the Wirral after years of work according to the council.

Hepatitis C – for which there is currently no vaccine – can cause serious and potentially life-threatening damage if left untreated over many years. With modern treatment, the infection can be cured and most people have a normal life expectancy.

A Wirral Council public health committee meeting was told it “has now eliminated hepatitis C within the borough.” However, officers later clarified this does not mean it is not present at all.

In 2019, it was estimated around 118,000 people in the UK had chronic hepatitis C. People can become infected after coming into contact with the blood of an infected person and those who inject drugs are most at risk.

Elimination of the infection was delivered through work with drug misuse services across the Wirral as part of the local authority’s health protection strategy. An update report had said a small number of service users were refusing testing.

Helen Stott, head of health protection at the council, said it was “absolutely fantastic news,” adding, “Hopefully we can work on the strengths of this and then try and look further into that additional cohort that we can offer testing too and offer treatment as early as possible.”

She said, “It’s been a couple of years in the making but we’ve finally made it.”

Ms Stott said there were specific criteria which meant 100% of the people using a drug misuse service were offered tests, 90% of those got tested, and 75% of those who tested positive receive treatment.

Dave Bradburn, Wirral Council director of public health, added, “I just want to emphasise the point it’s micro-elimination of Hepatitis C. It doesn’t mean that Hepatitis C is not prevalent at all in the Wirral.

“It’s that we’ve got it down to such a low, manageable level that it’s not becoming as much of a threat as it was to other members of the population, whether that be injected drug users which is the predominant method of transmission.”

The team at the Wirral Ways, which is part of the national health and social care charity Change Grow Live, has worked tirelessly to eliminate hepatitis C by focusing on blood-borne virus (BBV) testing.

The blood spot test checks for BBV such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV as those who inject drugs have an increased risk of contracting these viruses.

Johnathan Occleshaw, Change Grow Live’s hepatitis C coordinator for the North West, said, “It is my tremendous pleasure to let you know that our fabulous Wirral Ways service has achieved micro-elimination of hepatitis C – this makes Wirral Ways the largest service so far to declare this.

“The service has been on the brink for a couple of months now which shows we can maintain it.”

Gary Grier, the Project Manager at Wirral Ways, said, “Achieving micro-elimination is an outstanding act – but the best part is promoting better health outcomes for those who use our services. This is a brilliant effort from everyone involved.”

He added, “We have worked closely and tirelessly with staff from Arrowe Park Hospital and The Royal Liverpool University Hospital. Without their help – as well as support and guidance from The Hepatitis C Trust and Gilead Sciences – this would not have been achieved.”

If you or someone you know are struggling with drug or alcohol misuse, please get in touch with Wirral Ways. You can make a referral by phoning the service on 0151 556 1335 or by visiting www.changegrowlive.org/wirral-ways 

By Ed Barnes – Local Democracy Reporter with additional reporting by Birkenhead News.

Image: A BBV test being completed at Wirral Ways. Credit: Wirral Ways

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