THERE are more people in Wigan living with a dangerous blood disease than almost anywhere else in Greater Manchester.
A total of 1,706 people in the borough are known to be infected with hepatitis C - the third highest rate in Greater Manchester - with the cost for treatment stretching to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Across the region - where an estimated 17,400 people are infected with the virus - that bill rises to an eye-watering £31m.
Dr Tim Dalton, chairman of NHS Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect and damage the liver. You can become infected with hepatitis C if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person. In most cases, hepatitis C causes no noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged and when symptoms do occur, they are often vague and can be easily mistaken for another condition.
“Because hepatitis C often causes no obvious symptoms, testing is usually recommended if you are in a high-risk group, such as being a current or former injecting drug user.
“Hepatitis C is more common in men than women as men are more likely to inject drugs. It’s estimated that up to 49 per cent of people who inject drugs in England are thought to have hepatitis C.
“If you are in a high risk group it is sensible to visit your GP, sexual health clinic, GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic or drug treatment service who all offer testing for hepatitis C. The sooner treatment begins after exposure to the hepatitis C virus; the more likely it is to succeed.”
Greater Manchester has the highest number of cases of hepatitis C in the North West, with Wigan only being beaten by Manchester with 5,124 and Bolton with 2,063.
And across the whole of the North West around 39,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, although that figure could be much higher as symptoms are not immediately apparent. People most at risk include those using intravenous drugs.