WASHINGTON, November 5, 2013 — Dr. Mitchell Shiffman of Bon Secours Liver Institute of Virginia has declared “There is no doubt we are on the verge of wiping out Hepatitis C”.
A happy Dr. Arthur Rubens entered a clinical trial to test a new pill against Hep C saying, “Taking it was a piece of cake” and after 90 days of treatment, the virus was declared cleared from his body after years of infection.
Hep C kills more Americans than AIDS and is the leading cause of liver transplants. The seemingly successful effort to eradicate it will potentially see the first viral epidemic wiped out sans a vaccine.
Starting in several weeks and continuing over the next several years, new drugs will be forthcoming to end Hep-C with a once-a-day pill without the multiple injections now required along with horrific side effects. The rate of cure will be substantially increased over current figures of 70 percent.
The drawbacks are the $60-$100,000 cost for a course of treatment and the possibility of many folks turning out to get the treatment who may never have so much as a hiccup from carrying the Hep C virus. Often those who are infected have no symptoms. If carriers appeal to medical insurance to cover the costs of the new treatmens, premiums are likely to increase for everyone.
Currently, about three to four million Americans have Hep C and the estimates of worldwide infection are about 150 million. These figures represent about three to five times the number of those infected with H.I.V.
The number of newly infected, about 17,000 annually, is a significant reduction from the 200,000 newly infected annually in the 1980’s. Health care officials attribute the slowing numbers to public education of the virus.
As with H.I.V., Hep C is known to be spread from drug abuse with needles, blood transfusions and sexual activity. The difference in treatment is that H.I.V. has a latent reservoir in the body and a victim must continue on medication for life to stop the virus from returning.
With Hep C, there is no reservoir so the virus can be destroyed. However, even with this, there is an increased risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis, particularly if scarring of the liver is pronounced.
However, Hep C expert Charles Rice at the Rockefeller University warns that new medications may have more side effects than currently noted. Rice notes, “We may be in for some surprises still,” and says that more clinical experience will reveal more information.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to approve a new Hep-C drug, sofosbuvir, by December 8. This drug inhibits the virus’s polymerase enzyme that builds new genomes from RNA to allow viral replication. The new drug appears like the RNA building block but once adapted into the RNA chain, the virus cannot reproduce itself.
Current treatment for Hep C involves numerous rounds of painful injections and suffering side effects, which discourages those who spread the disease from seeking treatment. Those same individuals may be more likely to seek treatment if it involves taking pills, without the pain and side effects. This will not only provide relief for sufferers, but will also help reduce the spread of the disease as carriers receive treatment.
Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist
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