Dirty needles main cause in 700 new cases of hepatitis C
Over 700 cases of hepatitis C - which can cause liver disease - were reported last year.
A new report from the disease watchdog, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), found that the majority of cases in Ireland occurred in drug users who were likely to have been infected through "unsafe practices".
The infection is initially without symptoms in most cases. However, the HPSC said that approximately 75pc of those infected fail to clear the virus and develop chronic infection.
"Between 5pc-20pc of chronically-infected individuals develop cirrhosis of the liver after 20 years of infection," the report said.
However, the HPSC said in its 2014 report that there have been major advances in its treatment in recent years.
"The overall prevalence of chronic hepatitis C in Ireland is comparable to other Northern European countries, and is estimated to be between 0.5pc and 1.2pc," it said.
The health body said that hepatitis C notifications decreased by 7pc in 2014 to 710 cases, compared to 2013, when a total of 761 cases were reported.
"This was a continuation of a general downward trend since peak levels in 2007," it said.
The figures showed a "strong predominance of males". A total of 497 (70pc) of the cases occurred in men.
Meanwhile, the highest notification rates were in young to middle-aged adults. Some 593 cases (84pc) were aged between 25 and 54 years of age.
Data on the most likely risk factor was available for nearly half of the cases last year.
The most common risk factor reported was injecting drug use - 278, or 80pc of cases.
The report said that data on the country of birth was available for 232, or 33pc, of cases last year.
Where it was available, 47pc of the cases were born in Ireland and 52pc were born outside the country.
Hepatitis C is transmitted by contact with blood of an infected person.
Meanwhile, the report said that anecdotally, the proportion of drug users who are injecting is decreasing and the incidence of hepatitis C appears to be decreasing in this population.