LANDMARK buildings throughout Bradford – including Bradford Royal Infirmary – will be lit up purple tonight to mark World Hepatitis Day (July 28).
And Bradford Teaching Hospital’s own specialist Hepatology team hope the event will shine a spotlight on Hepatitis C, a ‘silent infection’ which, if left untreated, can cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver cancer.
Rhian Simpson, Lead Hepatology Clinical Nurse Specialist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals, said: “There are people who are carrying Hepatitis C but don’t know it, and who don’t know we can cure them.
“So, World Hepatitis Day is a really worthwhile event to help raise the profile of the condition. With modern treatments, it’s now usually possible to cure Hepatitis C in eight to 12 weeks.
“Since new treatments for the condition were licensed in England in 2015, we have treated 617 patients at BRI, but we know there are still more people out there with the condition, and we encourage people to come forward and contact their GP to get screened if they think they may have been exposed to Hepatitis C. Screening is carried out via a simple blood test.”
Hepatitis C often lies undetected for years until the virus damages the liver enough to cause liver disease.
It’s estimated that around 215,000 people throughout the UK currently have Hepatitis C, and you can become infected if you come into contact with the blood of an infected person, including through intravenous drug use, blood transfusions prior to 1991, and via medical treatment in some overseas countries.
Rhian added that people are often tested for Hepatitis C when their risk factors are higher, with individuals at increased risk of contracting the disease if they have shared razors or unsterilised needles, for example, while injecting drugs.
It’s estimated that up to 49 per cent of people who inject drugs in England are thought to have Hepatitis C, but it’s not only regular drug users who are at risk. People who have only injected drugs once in their life have also been known to develop the disease.
As well as identifying Hepatitis C patients at BRI with help from a fibroscan machine, which measures fibrosis or stiffening of the liver tissues, Rhian and her team, which includes fellow hepatology clinical nurse specialists Andrea Turner, Katie Seward and Sarah-Jo Cunningham, conduct Hepatitis C outreach clinics in drug treatment centres, GP practices, and mental health units.
The nursing team’s work is not limited solely to Hepatitis C, however, as all four nurses are passionate about the care, support and treatment of patients experiencing a wide range of liver-related diseases and conditions.
Other services carried out by the team include paracentesis in order to ease ascites, the medical term for the build-up of fluid in the abdomen. Ascites can occur for several reasons, but is most commonly seen in patients with liver disease.
The day-case paracentesis service was previously conducted by junior doctors, but in the past year the procedure has become nurse-led in Bradford. The service has also continued throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to ensure patients avoid emergency and unnecessary admissions to hospital.
Rhian and Andrea have also supported ward-based clinical staff during the pandemic by inserting ascitic drains for BRI inpatients being cared for in different areas of the hospital.
Hepatology Clinical Nurse Specialist Andrea Turner said the team were now developing their own website to further raise the profile of Hepatitis C and their work.
“We want to highlight the condition and let as many people know about it as we can,” she added. “Hepatitis C is treatable and entirely curable if it is caught in time. If you think you may have it, please contact your GP.”
The main entrance at BRI and Women’s and Newborn Unit will be lit up purple alongside City Hall, Margaret McMillan Tower and the Forster Square Arches in Bradford tonight.
The Hepatology unit at Bradford Teaching Hospitals is led by consultant gastroenterologists and hepatologists Dr Sulleman Moreea and Dr Paul Southern. Dr Moreea set up the unit 15 years ago. The unit is now the second largest Hepatitis C treatment centre in West Yorkshire (after Leeds), and the largest liver research centre in the region, having participated in many landmark clinical studies on the medication it is now using.
Dr Moreea said: “We will soon be developing capacity for people who are at risk of Hepatitis C to come forward to have a free test with a view to eliminating hepatitis C from Bradford well before the World Health Organisation deadline of eliminating Hepatitis C by 2030.”
Former Hepatitis C patient Claire Placid was recently treated by the Hepatology nursing team at Bradford Royal Infirmary. She said: “I was tested for Hepatitis C last year and even though I knew I had put myself at risk because of my addiction I was still shocked when the results came back positive.
“I was embarrassed to have to go and get tested at first but I must admit all the nurses were really understanding and I didn’t feel judged at all.
“They really put my mind at ease as I was worried about everything at this point, everything was explained about the treatment and when to take the medication step by step.
“The treatment lasted 12 weeks and I had no side effects from the tablets. The nurses were there throughout the whole experience and were so supportive. It couldn’t have gone any smoother.
“I have now had my three and six-month post-treatment blood tests and I am cured from Hepatitis C. It is a massive weight lifted off my shoulders. The nurses are so encouraging and treat me like a human being, despite of my battle with addiction.
“Please do not be put off being tested; the treatment is so short and easy to do. The absolutely fab nurses will support you throughout your treatment, and you’ll be treated as an individual. They really do understand and don’t judge. This treatment really has changed my life, so a massive thank you to all of the team that have helped this happen.”
Picture caption: Hepatology Clinical Nurse Specialists Andrea Turner (L) and Rhian Simpson
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