UK health officials say that hepatitis B and C cases accounted for 93 percent of infectious disease reports in English prisons during 2014. 1,174 of 1,268 infectious diseases reported were either hepatitis B or C, health officials note.
The number of single reports of infectious diseases made to Public Health England (PHE) has more than doubled since 2011 (549 reports). The increase in reports reflects significant improvements in testing for hepatitis and other blood borne viruses (BBV) in prisons, which in a major change is moving from an ‘opt-in’ to an ‘opt-out’ policy to help reduce transmissions.
Preliminary results from prisons who have already introduced the ‘opt out’ policy reveal a near doubling of BBV testing. These early adopters report 21% of new entrants were tested for hepatitis C and 22% for hepatitis B in the first phase, compared to 11% for hepatitis C and 12% for hepatitis B previously. The majority of early adopters stated that the policy has helped them identify people who would otherwise have remained undiagnosed.
The prison population has a higher incidence of hepatitis C than the general population (8% compared to 2%), therefore diagnosing and treating hepatitis C and other BBVs in prisons is designed to help reduce transmission both in prisons and in the community.
These new figures are published Monday in PHE’s health and justice 2014 report, which details the important changes in the health and justice system and discusses the public health needs of people in prisons and other prescribed places of detention. This group experience a number of health inequalities, including suffering a higher burden of chronic illnesses, mental health and substance misuse problems than the general public.
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE said:
Improving the health of prisoners delivers a ‘community dividend’ by benefiting the areas to which most prisoners eventually return. By intervening in prisons we can help prevent the spread of infectious diseases, lighten the burden on the NHS from long standing problems, and reduce re-offending linked to poor health. This principle underpins our work in prisons and is no more evident than in our vital work on blood-borne viruses which will help reduce infection rates inside and outside prison walls.
We are world leading in our ability to collect surveillance data on infectious diseases from the whole English prison system in near real-time, allowing us to quickly identify and respond to emerging threats. With this experience PHE has a leadership role with the World Health Organization’s Health in Prisons Programme, helping other countries across Europe in their efforts to improve the quality of prisoner health.