Turning the tide against the rise of hepatitis C has been a primary goal of the medical community for many years. Being able to eliminate the virus from the body with a simple, effective treatment would be an enormous public health achievement. Hepatitis C kills more Americans annually than AIDS. The virus is also the leading cause of liver transplants.
After being diagnosed with an hepatitis C infection that was slowly destroying his liver, Dr. Arthur Rubens, a professor of management at Florida Gulf Coast University, tried several experimental treatments. Many of the treatments subjected him to unpleasant side effects, like fever, insomnia, depression, anemia and a rash that “felt like your skin was on fire.” This year, Dr. Rubens joined a clinical trial testing a new pill designed to eliminate hepatitis C infections from the body. After three months of treatment, the virus was cleared from his body.
New drugs are expected to come to market that will cure most patients with the virus beginning near the end of 2013 and continuing over the next three years. If the new medications are proven to be successful with a wider range of patients, it would mark the first time that a viral epidemic has been controlled without the use of a vaccine. Dr. Mitchell L. Shiffman, the director of the Bon Secours Liver Institute of Virginia said, “There is no doubt we are on the verge of wiping out hepatitis C.”
One of the new drugs is a once-a-day pill taken for as few as eight weeks. The medication in the pill has shown few side effects so far. Current therapies for hepatitis C require six to 12 months of injections that often have terrible side effects. These therapies cure about 70 percent of newly treated patients.
However, the cost of the new drugs may limit their usage. Some of the new drugs are expected to cost from $60,000 to more than $100,000 for a course of treatment. This would put the drugs out of reach for the uninsured and infected patients in developing countries.
Not everyone diagnosed with a hepatitis C would be helped by the new drugs. Many people infected with hepatitis C never suffer serious liver problems. Dr. Ronald Koretz, emeritus professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, Los Angele, said, “The vast majority of patients who are infected with this virus never have any trouble.”