At least 260 deaths in 20 years since hepatitis C scandal erupted

Report reveals health consequences of contaminated blood products supplied by State

The report also flags a more optimistic future for patients due to advances in treatment. Photograph: Getty Images

The report also flags a more optimistic future for patients due to advances in treatment. Photograph: Getty Images

 

At least 260 people who were infected with hepatitis C from contaminated blood products supplied by the State have died in the 20 years since the scandal broke, according to a new report.

While the causes of death are not solely due to liver disease, the death rate among those who developed a chronic infection is almost three times that suffered by those who did not, the 2015 report of the National Hepatitis C Database shows.

The report sets out the serious health consequences suffered by men and women who were infected through anti-D immunoglobulin, blood transfusions, blood clotting factors or treatment for kidney disease.

But it also points to a more optimistic future for patients thanks to the availability of powerful new drug treatments which make the complete eradication of the virus a possibility.

The database was set up in 2004 to collect data on people infected with hepatitis C and track the progression of the disease. Some 1,320 people are participating in the study, or 77 per cent of those who were infected.

A total of 1,060 people were still alive at the end of 2013, and 390 of these were chronically infected with hepatitis C. Of this group, two-thirds were women infected through anti-D immunoglobin given during pregnancy while the rest were men and women infected though blood transfusion and blood clotting factors.

Liver disease

Among those who were chronically infected, 29 per cent showed signs of liver disease, 22 per cent had cirrhosis and 5 per cent had liver cancer.

Severe liver disease was more common among men, older patients and those who with a higher alcohol intake. Those who drank heavily were over five times more likely to have serious liver disease compared to those who did not.

The death rate among those who were chronically infected was 23 per cent, compared to 8 per cent among those who were not.

The report notes a rapidly shifting therapeutic landscape, with the arrival of new and highly effective drugs, given over a shorter duration and with fewer side effects, offers a more optimistic future for patients with chronic hepatitis C infection.

“There have been huge developments in the area of therapeutic drug treatment for hepatitis C in the last number of years and we are now entering into an era where complete eradication of the virus is a real possibility,” said Michele Tait, chairwoman of the National Hepatitis C Database Steering Committee.

Brian O’Mahony, chief executive of the Irish Haemophilia Society, said the data showed a serious progression of the virus over the past four years. Of 240 haemophiliacs who received contaminated blood products, 112 have died.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver which is most commonly caused by a viral infection. Blood is now routinely screened for the virus and hepatitis C currently occurs primarily through injecting drug use.

The HSE National Service Plan for 2015 provided €30 million to begin the phased rollout of treatment programme for patients with hepatitis C. Virtually all of the 400 people with the virus are expected to be “cured” following a 12-week programme of treatment costing between €45,000 and €55,000 per patient.