MORE than 1,500 people in Wigan have the hepatitis C virus in Wigan new figures show.
A report by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) revealed that some 1,510 cases of the infection have been recorded by NHS Ashton Leigh Wigan, but there are fears the figure could be much higher.
Some 16,525 across the region are known to have the disease, costing the NHS almost £12 million a year say the HPA.
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus causes inflammation of the liver and, when left untreated, can result in chronic liver disease, liver failure and even death. It is a preventable disease that is usually treatable if caught early enough.
Experts from the Health Protection Agency North West say many of the cases have been caused by using dirty needles to inject drugs.
They are urging drug users to be tested for the disease so they can have early treatment.
Health bosses say it is an escalating problem and expect the number of cases in Greater Manchester to soar, costing the NHS an extra £1.6m by 2015.
They believe that 1,121 people in the region will die from the virus in 2015 - unless testing and treatment is improved. It is the first time that such detailed figures have been made available.
Dr Evdokia Dardamissis, consultant in health protection and the north west’s regional Hepatitis C lead, said: “We are working closely with our NHS partners and drug services to improve surveillance and research and to increase public awareness, particularly amongst injecting drug users because they are at greatest risk.
“If we can raise public awareness, the people who are most at risk can take measures to prevent themselves from becoming infected and those who are already infected can be brought into highly effective treatment programmes. People who believe that they may have been exposed to hepatitis C infection should arrange to be tested, through GPs or drug services.”
The virus can cause inflammation, swelling and scarring of the liver tissue, and often leads to significant liver damage.
Around 250,000 people in Britain have hepatitis C - 25,624 of them in the north west.