An international study suggests that new antiviral therapies to treat hepatitis C could greatly reduce the number of cases of the chronic liver disease worldwide. The study, published in the journal Hepatology, revealed that the impact of a new type of antiviral treatment that could potentially reduce infection rates by as much as 50 percent over 15 years.
The current antiviral treatment of pegylated-interferon and ribavirin can cure approximately 60 percent of people treated. However, these drugs are poorly tolerated and must be taken for long periods of time (five to 11 months).
However, a new type of treatment, an interferon-free direct-active antiviral, has shown promising results in clinical studies. In fact, trials suggest that treatment duration is short (12 weeks), presents few complications and side effects, and has a cure rate of 90 percent.
Scientists used a mathematical model to project the potential impact of these new treatments among people who inject drugs, who have an increased risk of contracting the virus. They looked specifically at the impact they could have in three different cities - Edinburgh, U.K.; Melbourne, Australia; and Vancouver, Canada. They found that these drugs may be instrumental in treating chronic hepatitis C as well as preventing further spread of the disease.
"The development of highly effective simplified new [hepatitis C] treatments has the potential to greatly enhance existing prevention strategies," said Greg Dore, a professor at Australia's University of New South Wales. "Access to affordable [hepatitis C] direct acting antiviral regimens for people who inject drugs should be a major focus to harness this potential prevention capacity."
An estimated 3.2 million persons in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C virus infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, most of those infected do not have symptoms and therefore do not know they are infected.
The virus is transmitted through the blood of an infected individual. While it can be spread during sexual contact, individuals who share needles or received blood transfusions or organ transplants before blood was tested are at an increased risk.
Chronic hepatitis C can last a lifetime and may lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.