A survey has revealed that more than one third of doctors in general practice are unable to read their patients' hepatitis C results.
This figure is exacerbated by a failure to follow up with patients even when they have been correctly interpreted, according to a survey of 200 GPs by ICM Healthcare on behalf of The Hepatitis C Trust.
Some people who contract the disease suffer mild to more serious symptoms but one in five will clear the virus naturally. In about 20% of cases cirrhosis of the liver will develop over a period of 20 years or more.
Almost a third of GPs (32%) do not actively follow up with patients who test positive for hepatitis C and more than two-thirds (77%) said they did not consider infectious diseases to be a major threat to public health.
The only drug treatment for the disease is successful in only half of cases when administered during chronic infection. Success rates among those treated early after infection are significantly higher at around 90%.
Charles Gore, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: "GPs must take some responsibility to ensure patients with hepatitis C are not left undiagnosed.
"More must be done to equip GPs with the right information so they can correctly identify those who should be offered a hepatitis C test and interpret any result correctly."
The poll was funded by pharmaceutical company Roche.