Finally, Progress Against a Silent Killer; Brand New Treatment for Hepatitis C Increases Importance of Getting Tested
“Last week, the US Department of Health and Human Services, along with members of Congress, unveiled a detailed action plan for dealing with America’s epidemic of viral hepatitis. And Friday marked the beginning of a new era for the treatment of hepatitis C: The [Food and Drug Administration] gave the green light to adding protease inhibitors to the current treatment regimen.
“... The problem is that most people with viral hepatitis don’t know that they have it. ... When I began my career in the 1980s, there wasn’t much a doctor could do to treat viral hepatitis. The hepatitis C virus hadn’t been identified and, though hepatitis B had been discovered in 1967, there was no effective treatment.
“Treatment for hepatitis C was first approved by the FDA in 1991. It consisted of six months of injections with an antiviral medication known as interferon, which was approved the following year to treat hepatitis B. But results were disappointing for both diseases, a mere 6 percent of people with hepatitis C were able to eradicate the virus from their bodies, and for most people with hepatitis B, the virus reappeared in their blood as soon as interferon was stopped.
“Fast-forward to 2011. We have made remarkable medical advances: Hepatitis B can now be treated with one pill a day, and while many people need to continue medication for the rest of their lives, most are able to put the virus into remission. ...
“And now, for hepatitis C patients, by adding a protease inhibitor to their current treatment regimen, cure rates (yes, cure) will skyrocket to 75 percent, even in people with the most common and most difficult strain to cure.
“But none of these advances will matter if people continue to be unaware that they have the disease. Given the new cure rates for hepatitis C and the effectiveness of current hepatitis B treatments, there is no question that everyone at risk should get tested ... . By promoting greater understanding of these diseases, and with the treatments now available, we actually now have a chance to make viral hepatitis an epidemic of the past.”
Palmer is the director of hepatology at NYU Hepatology Associates in Plainview, N.Y., and author of “Dr. Melissa Palmer’s Guide to Hepatitis and Liver Disease.”
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Dr. Melissa Palmer
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