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.
Health experts have devised an aggressive plan to stamp out a viral disease that is fueling a sharp rise in liver cancer in the United States and killing 20,000 Americans per year.
Their national strategy for eliminating two types of hepatitis by 2030 hinges on persuading the federal government to purchase the rights to one or more of the costly new medications that can essentially cure hepatitis C.
That unprecedented step is one of a raft of recommendations issued Tuesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The academies’ expert panel also recommended a campaign to vaccinate all adults against hepatitis B, expanding needle exchanges for intravenous drug users and a nationwide effort to identify and treat the legions of Americans who are unknowingly infected with either strain of the virus.
As the state takes a deep look at its hepatitis C epidemic, Brown University researchers have crunched the numbers to project what could be done to lift Rhode Island’s burden of death and disease.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On the eve of a WaterFire celebration dedicated to eliminating hepatitis C, a new Brown University study projects that increasing the number of Rhode Islanders treated every year for hepatitis C virus infection (HCV) to about 2,000 by 2020 would reduce cases by 90 percent and prevent more than 70 percent of expected liver-related deaths in the state by 2030.
More moderate increases in treatment such as doubling the number treated each year could reduce death rates by less than 20 percent, the analysis showed.