Six in 10 people infected with hepatitis C undiagnosed

Conference hears of challenges in transferring treatment of condition to primary care

Six in 10 people infected with the hepatitis C virus in the Republic remain undiagnosed, a major conference has heard.

The conference, entitled Hidden Disease: The Future of Hepatitis C treatment in the Community and Primary Care in Ireland and hosted by Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), took place in Dublin on Saturday.

There were calls by experts for the role of GPs to be enhanced to enable greater diagnosing of the virus.

Speakers discussed the challenges and opportunities in transferring the treatment of hepatitis C to primary care in Ireland.


Attendees also heard about the incidence of the virus in hospitals, prisons, drug clinics and homeless shelters both in Ireland and abroad, as well as the available treatments and everyday challenges facing patients.

Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver disease. While risk factors differ, injecting drug use (IDU) is a major risk factor in developed countries like Ireland.

Recently published national guidelines for the treatment of hepatitis C estimated that there are between 20,000 and 42,000 people with the infection in Ireland but a large majority, of up to 60 per cent of those infected with the infection remain undiagnosed.

Dr Des Crowley, a GP and assistant director of the Substance Misuse Programme with the ICGP, said the condition “remains one of the latent diseases affecting a great many people in Ireland but is largely undiagnosed”.

“As a cause of liver disease it is often too late to redress by the time chronic symptoms, such as cirrhosis, become obvious. Effective screening is necessary to reduce infection and spread of hep C.

“This conference is a great opportunity to discuss the new HCV screening guidelines and how greater detection of HCV can be implemented via GPs. GPs can play a pivotal role in implementing the recently published HCV screening guidelines.

“The movement of HCV treatment from hospital services to community and primary care will reduce one of the recognised barriers to patients with HCV infection: accessing and completing treatment.”

During the conference, which was held in the Catherine McAuley Centre in Dublin 7, findings from the HCV Community Treatment Pilot in Dublin and the lessons to be learnt from the Dundee model of screening and treatment in Scotland were presented.

“We know from our work that many people with HCV and those suspected of HCV are reluctant to go to a hospital setting for treatment, and that a GP-led service for those including the homeless, those attending drug clinics, or ex-prisoners is more accessible for them,” added Dr Crowley.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter