From 18th November 2016 we mark the fourth annual European HIV & Hepatitis testing week, an initiative focused on “Becoming aware of your status”, with hepatitis added as a focus last year.
In 2015, more than 400 organisations from across 53 countries participated in European testing week and as a result thousands more people are now aware of their HIV and hepatitis status.
Hepatitis is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver which can eventually cause serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, and weakens the body’s ability to fight infections and disease. Both do not always have obvious symptoms but can lead to a persistent infection, with high rates of disease and death.
Similar groups are at risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C, with key populations including men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and populations from countries with a high or medium prevalence.
Around 2.5 million people are living with HIV in Europe, of whom one in three is unaware of their infection status, and half are at an advanced stage of infection.
The numbers for viral hepatitis are even higher; around 13.3 million people are living with hepatitis B, and 15 million with hepatitis C, of whom the majority are unaware of their infection. A staggering 36,000 deaths due to hepatitis B and 86,000 deaths due to hepatitis C occur each year in Europe.
Closer to home in the UK, an estimated 103,700 people were living with HIV in 2014, approximately 17% of who were unaware of their infection. An estimated 180,000 people have chronic hepatitis B and 214,000 have chronic hepatitis C in the UK, and most of these people are undiagnosed and so not in care.
The focus of this year’s testing week “TEST”, “TREAT”, and “PREVENT” highlights why it is so important to be aware of your status
TEST AND TREAT
Getting tested can mean an earlier diagnosis and access to specialist care and treatments which are more generally effective if started earlier in the disease course.
Nowadays, people living with HIV can expect to live into old age when diagnosed promptly. For someone with hepatitis C this could mean being cured, and for hepatitis B access to treatment resulting in a longer life expectancy, and reducing chances of progressing to cirrhosis, liver failure, and hepatocellular carcinoma.
People unaware of their blood-borne virus status are at greater risk of transmitting it, as they are not receiving treatment, which is known to suppress (or clear) the virus and therefore reduce infectivity.
And people who know they are infected can also take measures to prevent onward transmission of the infection, and take measures to reduce their risk of disease, such as alcohol consumption in persons with hepatitis C or B. People who test negative for hepatitis B but are at increased risk of infection can protect themselves with a free vaccine available from sexual health clinics or their GP.
However, there is still a huge amount of stigma and discrimination associated with blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis B and C and HIV and barriers to testing exist.
It is not just about encouraging a person to get tested, but also about encouraging health care professionals to offer the test.
The test provider’s attitude can influence a person’s decision to accept or refuse a blood-borne virus test. Dissemination of testing guidelines and messages among health care professionals is needed to raise awareness around testing.
Below are some helpful links:
- Click here to read more about The European HIV & Hepatitis testing week, including flyers, posters and toolkits
- Click here for NICE testing recommendations for hepatitis C and B
- Click here for the HIV testing guidelines
- If you are unsure whether you need a HCV test click here and take a quick questionnaire
- Click to read more about HBV, HCV, and HIV.
- Click to find your local sexual health services, or your local GUM clinic and get yourself tested!
- Click here to order a free and confidential self-sampling HIV test kit.