Strategy to fight killer bug

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HUNDREDS of Wiganers could be at risk of a potentially deadly virus which has very few symptoms.

Hepatitis C, which can damage the liver and cause cancer, could be affecting over 16,000 people in Greater Manchester according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The concerns have lead health chiefs to set up the Greater Manchester Hepatitis C Strategy, which aims to put in place a new clinical care pathway for the treatment of people with suspected hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can cause inflammation, swelling and scarring of the liver tissue, and often leads to significant liver damage.

Greater Manchester has the highest levels of Hepatitis C in England, due largely to its high prevalence among the sizeable local injecting drug using population. Hepatitis C is an escalating public health issue that will cost the NHS up to £8bn over the next 30 years unless testing and treatment is improved.

At present, GPs carry out a basic test on patients to see if they have hepatitis C antibodies in their system.

About 20-30 per cent of people clear the virus from their bodies and so the problem with this test is that it does not show if the virus is still present. This means the patient is then referred to secondary care.

Wigan has been set up as one of four treatment centres as part of the new strategy, along with North Manchester General Hospital, Manchester Royal Infirmary and Wythenshawe Hospital.

Dr Gurvinder Banait, Lead Consultant for the Hepatitis C Strategy at WWL, said: “WWL has supported the important local development and delivery of hepatitis C treatment provision, with Wigan being the only district general hospital in Greater Manchester to provide this.

“The local treatment service takes away the need for patients to travel elsewhere unless they have advanced disease.

“Treatment requires careful monitoring and this is provided by a local team with important benefits in terms of safety and a rapid response if adverse reactions occur.

“We have the capacity to treat approximately 40 patients per annum at present based on the resources available. This service will have important long term health benefits in terms of the avoidance of advanced liver disease including liver cancer, and help to reduce the rate of disease transmission.”

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