'Silent killer' warning as people still being diagnosed with 'bad blood' decades on

Blood sample with blank label
Anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 should get tested for Hep C, a charity has urged -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

A leading charity has called for a campaign to identify undiagnosed individuals infected with 'bad blood'. The Hepatitis C Trust has urged anyone who had a blood transfusion before 1991 to get checked for the condition.

This comes as the charity warns that people are still being diagnosed with the "silent killer" infection following the contaminated blood scandal.

The Hepatitis C Trust revealed that approximately two people are being diagnosed with the infection each month, having received a blood transfusion in the 1970s, 1980s or early 1990s after accidents, operations or during childbirth.

Many of these individuals may have experienced "vague" symptoms which could have led GPs to overlook their infection. The charity cautioned that delayed diagnoses can result in irreversible liver damage.

The public inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal dubbed the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS is set to publish its final report on May 20.

Tens of thousands were infected with hepatitis or HIV when they were given infected blood or blood products. Consequently, at least 3,000 have died and a significant number are living with long-term health issues.

Samantha May, who operates the helpline for the Hepatitis C Trust, informed the PA news agency that the oldest person she has assisted is 89 years old, an individual who received a blood transfusion in the early 1970s.

Meanwhile, the youngest is in his 30s who was transfused with infected blood in the early 1990s.

She stated: "The majority of calls that we deal with are people that received transfusions so that will be people that have had road traffic accidents, pregnancy, operations, perhaps other medical conditions where they've needed blood.

"Rather shockingly, we hear from around two people on average per month now in 2024, and have done consistently over the last five, six years or so, who are just getting diagnosed now.

"They had no idea that they were infected, pre-1991, going back to the 70s, from blood transfusions that they received for various causes."

"It's huge for them to find out that they have got an illness like hepatitis C it's a very frightening illness, it's potentially life threatening, it can cause serious liver damage and for some people that might lead to liver cancer. It can greatly affect your quality of life.

"So for people to be find out decades later, there's a lot to get your head around a diagnosis like that. The message is: If you had a blood transfusion before 1991 you should be tested regardless of how you feel it is often referred to as a silent killer because it's very common for people with hepatitis C to have this illness for decades with few or very vague and intermittent symptoms."

Stomach ache
Symptoms of a Hepatitis C infection include stomach pain, nausea and fatigue -Credit:Getty Images

Ms May explained that many individuals who have had the condition for years may have visited their doctor multiple times with various symptoms, but only receive a diagnosis when severe issues emerge.

"With symptoms like tiredness, digestive problems, general aches and pains, these are often attributed to people having busy lives, menopause, getting older, lifestyle all sorts of things, so it gets overlooked and missed," she added.

"It's so simple if you had a blood transfusion before the early 90s, regardless of how you feel, please just go and have a simple blood test. Go to your GP order one online, whatever works best for you and find out.

"One person dies every four days as a result of receiving that bad blood all those years ago. It's dreadful."

Early signs of a hepatitis C infection, which can appear within the first six months, may include fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach ache, nausea or vomiting, a high temperature, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).

If the infection persists for more than six months, symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. Commonly reported symptoms include abdominal pain, digestive issues, itchy skin, chronic fatigue, mood swings, depression or anxiety, and short-term memory loss or brain fog.

People can take the hepatitis C test at home by ordering a kit from hepctest.nhs.uk.

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