Thousands unaware they have hepatitis, warn campaigners

Up to 20,000 Irish people may be infected with killer disease hepatitis with only a fraction aware of it, campaigners warned today.

They urged anyone who has ever used an unsterilsed needle for drugs, tattoos or body piercing to consider getting tested.

The call came on World Hepatitis Day as a postcard campaign was launched to raise awareness and understanding about the disease.

Olivia Charr of the Blood Borne Virus Forum (BBVF) said public knowledge was crucial to removing the stigma that it was only drug abusers sharing dirty needles.

"Many people are not aware that they have hepatitis until they become chronically ill," she said.

"Education is essential to increase knowledge on the methods of prevention, as without knowledge we are all at risk.

"People should consider being tested if they have ever: injected illicit drugs, even once in the distant past; had a tattoo or body piercing using an unsterilised needle, or are uncertain about the sterility of a tattoo or piercing they received; or if they lived in or received medical treatment in a country with high rates of hepatitis."

The BBVF said up to 20,000 Irish people may be infected with the deadly Hep C strain with most of them not aware of it.

There has been a 29% increase in Hep C notifications since 2007 according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

Latest figures show that in 2006, three people tested positive for Hep B and 24 people tested positive for Hep C every week.

The BBVF is a group of voluntary community and statutory agencies who work on raising awareness of blood-borne viruses, including hepatitis.

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