Just a few years after the introduction of a reliable cure for hepatitis C, San Francisco has launched a campaign built on shoe leather and shrewd epidemiology to eliminate the virus. Health workers are expanding testing and searching the streets for homeless patients who don’t pick up their medication. Clinicians are training more doctors to treat infections. Patients can store their medications at a syringe exchange.
It’s all to combat a pressing and growing problem: In the U.S., more deaths are tied to hepatitis C, which can eventually cause liver cancer and failure, than the 60 other top communicable diseases combined, HIV and tuberculosis among them.
Before the development of the latest hepatitis C drugs, which are remarkably effective at curing the disease, the notion of eradication would have been implausible. That is no longer the case. But the virus is now being fueled by drug use, hitting patients who are the hardest to reach and have the least access to care and the pricey medications. Many are homeless, mentally ill, or incarcerated.