around 1,600 people in East Lancashire are currently suffering from Hepatitis C with many of them unaware they have the condition.
Figures released by NHS East Lancashire primary care trust show the East Lancashire area, which includes Burnley, has some of the highest numbers of cases in the North-West.
Hepatitis C is often called a silent disease because some people have the infection for a long time without symptoms now health bosses are trying to raise awareness of the disease. Those who may have been infected include current or former injecting drug users, people who received blood transfusions before September 1991 or blood products before September 1986 in the UK or who had tattoos, medical or dental work abroad where unsterile equipment may have been used.
Dr Evdokia Dardamissis, North-West regional lead for hepatitis with the Health Protection Agency said: “If people think they may have been exposed to the virus, it is important they contact their GP and request a test.
“A simple blood test is all that is needed to find out if they have the infection. Tackling undiagnosed hepatitis C infections by increasing awareness and encouraging people to come forward for testing could have a major impact on the number of people suffering needlessly from liver disease in the future.
“There is currently no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C but simple measures such as using sterile injecting equipment and not sharing personal items like toothbrushes and razors will minimise people’s chances of being exposed to it. For people who have become infected, drug treatment has become more effective in recent years.
Figures for the North-West show the number of 15 to 24-year-olds who have been tested increased from 3,427 in 2005 to 5,337 in 2010 and the numbers testing positive for hepatitis C have decreased from 3.0% to 1.0%.
Dr Dardamissis added: “The decrease in young people testing positive is encouraging as most new infections are acquired via injecting drug use which often begins in late adolescence and early adulthood, but we cannot be complacent. The decrease can be in part attributed to the ways in which organisations across the North-West are effectively working together to improve services for injecting drug users.”