The number of people living with hepatitis C in England has fallen by 45% since 2015 thanks to more accessible treatment, new data has shown.
The latest data published by the UK Heath Security Agency showed that there were an estimated 70,649 people with hepatitis C last year.
This means the NHS has treated more than 80,000 people since 2015 as part of its national elimination programme.
This also means more people have now been treated and cured of the virus than are left to treat, UKSA said.
While effective and curative treatments are available, the latest data from UKHSA also showed that a small but ‘not insignificant’ number of successfully treated individuals become re-infected with the virus, so maintaining prevention services is ‘critical’, the agency said.
It encouraged people in England at risk of hepatitis C to speak to their GP, local pharmacist or specialist drug and alcohol service, or do a test at home.
Earlier this year, a free online testing portal was launched, enabling people to order an at-home testing kit to find out if they have the virus and receive treatment if needed. So far, more than 4,500 people have ordered testing kits.
Dr Sema Mandal, deputy director for blood borne viruses at UKHSA, said: ‘Hepatitis C treatment has improved dramatically over recent years, but we need to identify people with the infection early to keep on track with elimination by 2030.
‘Many people remain undiagnosed, often because they have no symptoms or are unaware that they have ever been at risk.
‘If you have ever injected drugs – even if it was only once or years ago – you could be at risk of hepatitis C. If you think you could be at risk, speak to your GP or do a test at home.’
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: ‘Finding and treating more than 80,000 people as part of our hepatitis C elimination programme is a huge achievement and I’m delighted that we remain on track to eliminate the virus as a public health concern by 2030.
‘Hepatitis C treatment is simple to take and highly effective, with people usually cleared of the virus within three to four months. If anyone is worried they might be at risk, it’s never been easier to get tested and be treated, or receive peace of mind, at the first opportunity.’
Health Minister Will Quince said: ‘The data speaks for itself. We are making huge headway in eliminating hepatitis C, with England on track to be one of the first countries in the world to do so.
‘Deaths and prevalence of the virus have fallen consistently thanks to improvements in diagnosis and access to treatments.
‘We are at the forefront of tackling this serious disease, by swiftly procuring the best treatments and tackling inequalities through targeted screening and will continue to work towards the World Health Organisation’s target of eliminating this virus by 2030.’
Last year, researchers concluded that GPs in the UK could initiate treatment for hepatitis C now that medications are safer and less complex.