The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new treatment for hepatitis C – an infectious disease of the liver. This condition affects an estimated 4 million or more Americans and can lead to a chronic infection in 55 percent to 85 percent of sufferers. From there, 75 percent of patients end up having liver disease.1 Because of this, the FDA's news could have a serious impact on the population.
Background on hepatitis C
This virus is spread through blood or bodily fluids that are already infected. This can be due to needle-sharing in street drug usage, and mothers can transfer the infection to their children during pregnancy. Since 1992, there has been a great decrease in cases, due to the implementation of blood screen procedures. This means that someone receiving a blood transfusion has a minimal risk of contracting hepatitis C as a result.
Someone who is suffering from this infection may not even realize they are carrying the virus. However, there are a few symptoms that occur in some cases: dark urine, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and/or jaundice. If present at all, these signs will not be present for six to 12 weeks following exposure. Whether or not someone is aware of their condition, it is imperative that the infection be caught before it turns into liver disease.
In order to diagnose hepatitis C, medical professionals must do a biopsy of the liver. In most cases, any damage that has already been done upon diagnosis is irreversible. So, anyone who is at a high risk of contracting the infection should talk to their doctor about being tested, regardless of whether or not they are exhibiting any symptoms. Individuals at risk include dialysis patients, those who received a blood transfusion prior to 1992, someone who has been in contact with another individual who has hepatitis C, health care workers, HIV patients, people with other liver issues, and anyone who has used or is currently using injection drugs.
Treatment: old and new
Currently, health care professionals will remove the diseased liver immediately upon diagnosis. Until recently, there were only two drugs available to treat the infection: interferon and ribavirin. In many cases, these medications will be used together. Since only 15 percent to 25 percent of those who have contracted hepatitis C experience a full recovery from the virus, the medical industry has continued to look for other options. That's where the FDA's recently approved drug comes into play.
Olysio (simeprevir) is now an available option to help treat certain patients who have the infection. According to HealthDay, those who have cirrhosis or other liver diseases (but still have a functioning organ), individuals who have yet to be treated for hepatitis C and people who have not seen any improvements to their condition due to hepatitis C following other treatments are able to consider this new drug.2 This is great news because interferon is known to have some difficult side effects. Simeprevir could soon replace that portion of the current combination doctors are prescribing to patients who have been infected with hepatitis C.
"This could be the beginning of the end for hepatitis C, if everyone that has it gets tested and treated, as the CDC recommends for baby boomers," Dr. Douglas Dieterich explained to the source.
1 National Institutes of Health, "Hepatitis C" October 1, 2009
2 HealthDay, "FDA approves new treatment for hepatitis C infection" November 25, 2013