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Infected blood awareness

Published: 9 Oct 2016 00:01

Targeted campaign to trace people with pre-91 transfusions.

An awareness-raising campaign alerting anyone who had a blood transfusion in Scotland before September 1991 to their potential risk of hepatitis C infection will be launched tomorrow.

The measure was recommended by a working group set up by the Scottish Government in the wake of the Penrose Inquiry into infected NHS blood products. The recommendation is to ensure everyone who may have been affected has the opportunity to be tested and, if necessary, treated for the virus.

Around 400,000 posters and leaflets will be distributed to GP surgeries, hospitals, care homes, pharmacies and other community buildings across Scotland.

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood has also sent a letter to clinicians to remind them of the need to offer Hepatitis C tests to certain at-risk groups.

The working group estimated there are likely to be only a very small number of people in Scotland who were infected with Hepatitis C by pre-91 blood transfusions who do not yet know they have the illness.

Anyone who was seriously ill in hospital before this date, and thinks they may have had a transfusion, is encouraged to contact the Hepatitis Helpline, their GP surgery, or seek advice from the NHS Inform website.

Scotland is the only country in the UK to have carried out a statutory public inquiry into infected NHS blood products in the 1970s and 1980s.

Lord Penrose, who reported in 2015, made one recommendation – that all reasonable steps should be taken to offer blood tests to those who had not yet received them.

The Scottish Government went further and is currently in the process of significantly improving the financial support on offer to people who were affected.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said:

"The working group which we established to look into this estimated that the number of people infected with Hepatitis C via transfusion who have still not been diagnosed will be very small. However, it is possible there may be some people with mild symptoms who are living with this illness and don't know it. There have been efforts to trace them in the past, but we want to make sure that everything possible is done to find those still undiagnosed.

"The good news is that treatments for Hepatitis C have advanced enormously in recent years, so it really is vital that people come forward.

"The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to do all we can to help the people affected by this terrible chapter in the history of our health service. We remain the only country in the UK to have held a full public inquiry and I'm proud that we are taking steps to improve the financial support available to those infected, and their families."

Leon Wylie of Hepatitis Scotland said:

"If someone thinks they may have had a transfusion before 1992, don't gamble with your health, get tested. It is really easy to get a test through your GP or health clinic, it can now be just a finger-prick blood test, like many people do when checking their blood sugar levels.

"Hepatitis C often does not show any real symptoms for many years. The good news for people affected is medications can now cure the virus easily, testing if you even suspect there has been any risk is vitally important. I hope there is extensive coverage though this positive action of the Scottish Government and everyone who needs it comes forward for testing."

Bob Birchall from Shetland found out he was probably infected with hepatitis C after a blood transfusion in the mid-1970s, but wasn't diagnosed until 2008 when he was getting tests for a different medical condition.

Robert said: "Get tested, it takes a minute and the sooner they find it, the sooner they can treat it and you won't have to go through the sort of experience that me and a lot of other people have gone through."

Notes to editors

Anyone concerned can call the Hepatitis Helpline on 0800 224488 or visit nhsinform.scot.

Hepatitis C is passed on through blood-to-blood contact – In Scotland the great majority have got the infection through sharing contaminated equipment in illicit drug injecting but also activities such as unregulated tattooing and body piercing or from surgical treatment and transfusions carried out in high-risk overseas settings. Other ways include being exposed to blood through close household contact with someone who has hepatitis C (e.g. shared toothbrushes etc.) and in higher risk sexual contact, especially if the person with hepatitis C also has HIV. There is no immunisation against hepatitis C.

Fast facts

  1. It can't be spread through casual contact such as kissing, hugging, sharing cutlery etc.
  2. The virus is spread if infected blood enters your bloodstream.
  3. It often has no obvious symptoms meaning you could be infected but not know.
  4. It can cause serious liver damage if left untreated.
  5. 20-30% of people will clear the infection from the virus naturally.
  6. With treatment it can be cured.
  7. New, very effective treatments with minimal side effects are available although they are very expensive.
  8. It is important to get tested if you have ever been at risk.
  9. Support services are available for anyone affected by hepatitis C.