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Hepatitis C: screening is free for those born between 1969 and 1989, but more than half of Italians don’t know it

How much do Italians know about hepatitis C? Very little. Although 7 out of 10 have heard of it (73.9%), among these only 20% really know the pathology, over 40% say they know little or nothing (42.5%) and 37% answer “so-so”. Furthermore, 6 out of 10 Italians are aware of the availability of a diagnostic test to detect the HCV virus but only 4 out of 10 know that today the possibility exists, for i born between 1969 and 1989 and for some categories of people at particular risk, to undergo this test free of charge. Finally, too few – only 4 out of 10 – Italians are aware of the fact that hepatitis C, today, it can be cured.

These are some of the data that emerged from the AstraRicerche «Italians and hepatitis» opinion survey on a sample of one thousand Italians per Gilead Sciences on the level of knowledge regarding hepatitis C. A framework that highlights the importance of promoting deeper information to solve a public health problem: in fact, thousands of people have contracted the virus but are unaware of it.

L’absence of symptoms, which can last for yearsit does not alarm those who have contracted it that therefore he doesn’t take the test, he doesn’t inform himself and he doesn’t get treatment. In this way the virus continues to transmit from person to person and, in those who have contracted it, progressively compromises their health liver functioneven causing cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Learn more about Hepatitis C

These are the foundations on which it was born Hepatitis C. Let’s make a point, a multi-channel awareness campaign to promote greater knowledge of HCV infection and the importance of screening tests. The campaign inaugurated its journey to Milan in recent days, in conjunction with the Easl congress, the most important European scientific event in the field of hepatology, through the awareness tram which brought information materials to the streets of the center of the Lombardy capital on hepatitis C and the modes of transmission, inviting the population to carry out the screening test.
The campaign was supported by a radio spot, the involvement of influencers and www.patiactiamociunpunto.ita site to learn about the disease and its modes of transmission starting from four stories of ordinary people who, thanks to the test, discovered and cured the infection.

World Hepatitis C Day, the disease that can be cured today. that’s how

The campaign fits into a broader context of global fight against hepatitiswith the desire to contribute to the ambitious achievement of the WHO objective of eradication of the HCV virus by 2030. Promoted by Gilead Sciences, the initiative has the patronage of seven patient associations – Anlaids Lombardy Section ETs, Anlaids Onlus, EpaC- Ets, Associazione Milano Check Point, Open Group Bologna social cooperative, Plus Roma, Fondazione Villa Maraini – Cri, of three Scientific societies – Aisf (Italian Liver Study Association), Symg (Italian Society of General Medicine and Primary Care), Simit (Italian Society of Infectious and Tropical Diseases) and the Metropolitan City of Milan. «Although hepatitis C is now a treatable disease, it is still there an important share of the underground economy – points out Stefano Fagiuolidirector of the complex unit of gastroenterology, hepatology and transplantology Asst Pope John XXIII, Bergamo and of gastroenterology of the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan Bicocca – partly because this infection can act silently even for decades, progressively damaging the liver and causing cirrhosis which can turn into cancer, partly because there is insufficient awareness of how the virus is transmitted. It is therefore essential to inform yourself and take the test.”

In some regions a program is active Free hepatitis C screening for those born between 1969 and 1989 which many experts hope will spread to the general population. Investing in screening of the entire population would in fact mean reducing economic and health costs in just 4 years, “as well as reducing the burden of disease and death, consequently improving people’s quality of life” concludes Fagiuoli.

How the virus is transmitted

The HCV virus is mainly transmitted through the contact with infected blood, and therefore with the sharing of personal care objects such as razors, toothbrushes, manicure or pedicure instruments, the exchange of needles or syringes, the execution of tattoos or piercings with non-sterile needles. Also those who underwent blood transfusions or organ transplants before the 1990s is at risk because the virus was not known until then. Infection through sexual contact and from mother to child during childbirth is less frequent. So many behaviors and practices at risk, and yet only one in ten of those interviewed believed they were potentially at risk of hepatitis C. A sort of false perception which is reflected in the belief that only specific groups of people are at risk of hepatitis C: those interviewed put injecting drug addicts in first place (46.3%), in second place are people who have undergone transfusion or organ transplant (42.90%) and alcoholics in the third (30.57%). Only two out of ten Italians associate tattoos (24.8%) and piercings (23.5%) with the risk of hepatitis C. Share that decreases drastically for aesthetic practices (13.6%).

«Exposure to medical-surgical procedures before the 1990s represents the most important risk factor for HCV infection, which is not a problem confined to subjects with a history of drug addiction – he explains Roberta D’Ambrosio, specialist in gastroenterology; hepatologist at the Irccs Ca’ Granda Foundation Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milan – in fact, the virus was discovered late, and until 1992 no tests were available for its identification and for the consequent safety of transfusions, surgical interventions and of other procedures such as dialysis. To date, the risk of transmission of the infection is confined to some aesthetic procedures (ie tattoos, aesthetic interventions) performed in poorly controlled environments and to individuals who use recreational substances. This is why it is essential to act at a national level with extensive screening, which especially concerns subjects over the age of 33.”

Finally, the survey highlights how the propensity to take the test increases exponentially when people are correctly informed, going from 29.6% to 45.5% after reading a short informative text on what hepatitis C is and how it is transmitted. «That’s why – he claims Ivan Gardini, president of EpaC Ets – local and national information campaigns aimed at increasing the knowledge of the general population on this form of hepatitis are fundamental, because only in this way can we fully optimize the opportunity of free national screening for the group born after 1969 to 1989. Only from awareness of risky behavior can the suspicion of having contracted the infection arise and therefore the desire to undergo the diagnostic test. A test that shouldn’t be scary, because today there is an effective cure for hepatitis C.”

Against stigma and false myths

Information and awareness are also essential for fight stigma and false myths, unfortunately still very widespread among Italians. Approximately one interviewee in ten (10.8% of those who know about hepatitis) states that contact with people living with hepatitis C should be avoided. A percentage that rises to 22% in 18-29 year old males. Furthermore, approximately four in ten mistakenly think that there is a vaccine for hepatitis C and do not know that there is a cure. «I am very happy with the launch of this new campaign. Once again we stand alongside the scientific community and patient associations – he states Carmen Piccolo, medical director of Gilead Sciences Italia – to build together a world without hepatitis C. Collaborating with all the players in the health system is essential to really make a difference, promoting correct information, awareness and access to diagnoses and therapies. I am deeply convinced that only by joining forces will we be able to achieve the objectives set by the WHO. I invite all people with a risk profile to undergo the test, only in this way can we defeat hepatitis C.”

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Source: Vanity Fair

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