Thousands of people who are unaware they have hepatitis C could be diagnosed and then treated if screening was carried out in pharmacies, experts have said.
Estimates show that up to half a million people in the UK could be living with the disease without realising.
And a pilot scheme run in 19 pharmacies across the UK has proved successful in identifying a far higher rate of people with the virus than the number picked up by GPs. It is thought this may be due to a different group of people being reached in the pharmacy testing compared to those who were screened by a family doctor.
One in six people tested in pharmacies came back as positive for hepatitis C, which can be transmitted through infected blood, or hepatitis B, which can also be transmitted through other bodily fluids.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Hepatitis C Trust said the results show the need for wider screening.
Hepatitis C can cause serious liver disease and liver cancer but many people carry the disease for years with no symptoms.
Charles Gore, Chief Executive of the Hepatitis C Trust, said: “It is a tragedy that increasing numbers of people with hepatitis B and C are dying – often from particularly unpleasant liver cancer which these viruses can cause.”
Gary Warner, a pharmacist on the Isle of Wight, said: “The results speak for themselves – pharmacies see a different cohort of people to those who see their GP and therefore we can access and diagnose people who otherwise would not have been tested.”
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