The establishment of needle exchange schemes across the UK in the 1980’s is widely regarded as one of our most successful health promotion and harm reduction initiatives as it was effective in preventing the spread of HIV amongst intravenous drug using populations. It was not so successful for Hepatitis C as the virus is more robust and lives in normal atmospheric conditions for much longer than HIV which lasts for seconds (it will live longer in the barrel of a syringe as it is incubated).
Unfortunately, the three main BBVs affecting our service users, HIV, Hepatitis B (HBV) and Hepatitis C (HCV) are on the increase in 2016. The most ‘at risk’ population for people contracting HCV is injecting drug users. Also alcohol related liver disease and admissions to hospital are on the increase.
Drugaid works with BBV Specialist Nurses and hepatology staff to provide supported access to testing, vaccination and treatment for BBVs. At risk service users are encouraged to undertake testing and, if tests are positive, treatment for HIV, HBV and HCV.
Drugaid staff conduct Dried Blood Spot Testing for BBVs. The aim of these finger prick tests is to conduct an initial screening and get service users talking and thinking about BBVs. Test results take approximately one week.
All staff and service users are encouraged to take up HBV vaccination. If HBV is treated early it will be cleared with treatment.
There is currently no cure for HIV but those affected can take combination therapies that prevent escalation of disease and enable a normal lifestyle.
Around 20% of people who contract HCV clear it naturally. For the other 80%, there are new therapies for Hepatitis C – although the therapy is heavy going and not successful for everyone. A number of new therapies have recently become available and approved for use in the UK by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common virus among injecting users and is at epidemic levels in the UK in this population. Most people who are living with Hepatitis C are not aware of their infection as it often has no symptoms in the earlier stages. Spread is preventable. Drugaid staff will encourage injecting drug users to adopt safer drug taking techniques to help stop the spread. These include:
- Use all your own equipment including water, spoons and injecting equipment
- Practice safe sex – use a condom
- Do not share snorting equipment
- Do not share razors, toothbrushes or tattooing equipment
- Be aware of vertical transmission – mother to baby
- Do not share tourniquets
- Be aware of any blood spills
Drugaid staff work with alcohol users to reduce their alcohol consumption to safer levels. In some areas we work in partnership with Alcohol Liaison Nurses who are based in hospital emergency departments and who aim to identify problematic use at an early stage and work with individuals to reduce alcohol consumption levels.
Drugaid works with partner agency The Terrence Higgins Trust to provide peer support groups for people affected by blood borne viruses. Ask a staff member for further details.
Drugaid works in line with the Liver Disease Delivery Plan (link). Drugaid sits on Public Health Wales’ national group for prevention, education and awareness raising around BBVs and liver disease.