Around a third of people don't know how hepatitis C can be passed from person to person, according to new research commissioned by the Department of Health (DH), published today (26 January 2009).
The findings come as a major hepatitis C awareness campaign is launched to reach out to the estimated 100,000 people in England who are unaware they have the infection and stop others getting it.
A poll by ICM Research reveals that nearly one in four people don't know that hepatitis C can be passed on by sharing needles when injecting drugs, around four in 10 people don't know that they can catch hepatitis C by using unsterile equipment when getting a tattoo, piercing or acupuncture, one in eight think that hepatitis C can be passed on by kissing, and a third of respondents mistakenly believe there is a vaccine to protect against infection with hepatitis C.
Radio and press advertising will remind the public of life experiences that could have exposed them to infection such as injecting drugs or getting tattoos where equipment may not have been sterile. The campaign coincides with the 20th anniversary of the virus being identified.
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said: "Around 100,000 people in England are estimated to be unaware that they have hepatitis C. It can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear, if at all, and if left untreated can lead to liver damage and premature death.
"Fortunately, effective treatment is available, so it's vital that people who may have been at risk of infection seek medical advice and get tested."
Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust said: "Twenty years down the line, it's worrying to see the public still believe so many myths around hepatitis C. Education is absolutely essential to eradicating this problem. We are pleased to see the DH campaigning on this issue, but it's now time for both the public and health professionals to take action."
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I suffer from haemophilia and I am quite aware where my infection came from. My infection came from contaminated NHS treatment, treatment that was known to be infected by the NHS and treating doctors, but this knowledge was never shared with these frontline patients who were receiving this treatment for their condition, it is now well accepted that the government and the NHS could have, and should have, taken steps to inform patients of this high risk-treatment before putting haemophiliac patients lives at great risk, all in the name of saving money. This blatant irresponsible disregard for human life by both the UK government, the DH and doctors is unforgivable and impossible to deny or argue" – Mike from Cheshire