Peer-led support group launched for those with hepatitis C

Staff at Forward Leeds are helping those with hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus (BBV) to help themselves.

A new BBV peer support group will meet monthly at the Forward Leeds Kirkgate hub. Initially, it will be for clients and former clients of Forward Leeds.

Karen Towning, BBV Nurse at Forward Leeds said: “We recognised there is a real need for this kind of support group in Leeds. There can be a lot of worry and uncertainty for people about getting hepatitis C treatment. There can also be a lot of stigma with the disease.”

The group would be peer-led so that the members of the group would support and help each other, offering those with hepatitis C the chance to talk with people in similar situations.

Karen continued: “Additional support from people with real experience can mean a lot to those who are going through this. People don’t realise that current treatments can be shorter, with less side effects and more successful outcomes than they used to be.”

Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious and life-threatening damage to the liver over many years.

Approximately 216,000 people in the UK have chronic hepatitis C and around 50% of people who have ever injected drugs have the disease.

The hepatitis C virus is usually spread through blood-to-blood contact. Ways the infection can be spread include:

  • sharing unsterilised needles – particularly needles used to inject recreational drugs
  • sharing razors or toothbrushes
  • from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby
  • through unprotected sex – although this is very rare

In the UK, most hepatitis C infections occur in people who inject drugs or have injected them in the past.

Treatment for hepatitis C involves making lifestyle changes and taking one or more medications to fight the virus. People normally need to take medication for 8 to 48 weeks. The length of time will depend on the exact medicines they are taking and which version (strain) of the hepatitis C virus they have.