Clinicians who fear there could be up to 4000 people living in the eastern region with a deadly but curable condition are urging them to take action.
Addenbrooke’s is the hub hospital for the Hepatitis C Virus Operational Delivery Network (ODN) and leaders want those in high risk groups to get a test before it is too late.
They aim to bust the myth that treatment involves a long course of injections which make people unwell, stressing that modern anti-viral tablets mean over 90% of patients can be cured within eight to 16 weeks with few side-effects.
To help spread the word the ODN has appointed a clinical nurse specialist, Katie Eiloart, who visits homeless shelters and drug and alcohol services to offer education and testing. The hub gets further support from spoke sites in Peterborough, Bedford, Luton, Norwich, Ipswich and Basildon.
Addenbrooke’s liver consultant, Dr Will Gelson, explained that the virus is usually spread by blood to blood contact and if left untreated can result in scarring of the liver – cirrhosis – and in severe cases can cause liver failure or liver cancer.
Most hepatitis C infections occur in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past, although it can result from sharing razors or toothbrushes, or pass from a pregnant woman to her baby. In rare cases, it can be a result of unprotected sex.
Hepatitis C – frequently dubbed the “silent killer” - often doesn't have any noticeable symptoms until the liver has been significantly damaged, after which a sufferer may experience flu-like symptoms, tiredness, loss of appetite, stomach pain and nausea.
He said: “Anyone in a high-risk group should arrange to have an HCV antibody test which is available via their GP, local drug and alcohol service, sexual health clinic or an HCV treatment centre like ours. The earlier they receive treatment, the greater the chance of success.”
Clinical nurse specialist Katie Eiloart, who was appointed last year, added: “Working in the community can be challenging but also very rewarding when we locate people who need the test and results in treatment that saves their lives.”
“The good news is that our waiting lists are reducing, which is a reflection of the success of modern drugs, the speed of treatment and a growing awareness of the dangers of blood to blood contact.”