§ Yvette Cooper
The incidence of newly acquired hepatitis C infections is not known, as the virus is usually acquired without symptoms. Nevertheless, it is possible that the incidence is falling. Transmissions of hepatitis C through contaminated blood and blood products have now been virtually eliminated. There is also some evidence that the prevalence of hepatitis C among younger injecting drug misusers is less than among those who started injecting before harm minimisation strategies (e.g. needles exchange schemes) were put in place.
While the number of new infections may be falling, we expect an increase in the number of people diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C over the next 10 years, as individuals who have carried the virus for some time are identified through wider testing of groups who have been at risk.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has recently published recommendations on the use of alpha interferon combined with ribavirin for the treatment of patients with chronic hepatitis C, and National Health Service funding includes resources for implementing this guidance. Evidence-based clinical guidelines, drawn up by the professions, will be published shortly. The Department is in discussion with the professions, and with healthcare commissioners, about developing hepatology services to uniform standards throughout the country.