An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the US are chronically infected with hepatitis C.* Patients are often diagnosed incidentally, when they donate blood, get life insurance or get a routine physical exam with blood tests showing normal or abnormal liver enzymes. They may have been diagnosed many years ago with non-A, non-B hepatitis, but forgot about it, never followed up, or did not mention it to their regular health care provider. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued additional recommendations to start screening “Baby Boomers,” those born between 1945-1965. Though Baby Boomers account for 3.25% of the US population, they account for 3/4 of the hepatitis C infections.*
Patients may have seen a health care provider in the past and told that there is no treatment, that treatments were not effective, or not worthwhile due to side effects. Patients have been reluctant to seek treatment because they have heard about the terrible side effects associated with treatment, including flu-like symptoms, fatigue, depression, muscle aches, rashes, etc, lasting up to a year.
However, this is a pivotal time for hepatitis C patients because treatment has improved by leaps and bounds. In late 2013, two new medications were approved by the FDA (Sofosbuvir and Simeprevir). These new drugs, used in combination with existing medications, can provide greater than 90% response rates, with shorter treatment times (12-24 weeks), and less severe side effects, depending on individual patient factors, such as genotype (very important!) and degree of liver scarring. Some patients may not even need interferon, the current, less tolerable treatment. With new drugs and combinations of drugs expected to be approved in the next 1-2 years, treatments will only continue to improve.
So if you are a patient with hepatitis C, this is a great time to consult with your health care specialists about treatment options that may be appropriate and individualized for you.
* from the CDC guidelines.