Treatment for hepatitis C is now almost completely successful for all patients.
Treatment for hepatitis C was at one time complicated, requiring weekly visits to specialists and harsh drugs that often came with severe side effects. And the cure rate was less than 50 percent.
A few years ago, the arrival of blockbuster antiviral drugs improved a patient’s chances of curing the infection to nearly 100 percent, and with just one pill a day. The success of these new drugs now makes treatment possible in a primary care setting, and in Maine, that opens access for rural patients in particular. But some patients are still missing out, increasing their risk of developing liver cancer.
This is part two in a three-part series. To read part one, click here.
On a warm August afternoon, Brian Lamkins waits in a primary care exam room at the Katahdin Valley Health Center in Houlton. He’s about to start treatment for hepatitis C.
“Once I talked to these people here, it was such a relief,” he says, because he has lived with hepatitis C for more than 30 years, about half of his entire life. “I mean, how much life do I have at 60, who knows? But at this point, you can feel it periodically more than when you were younger. So if that clears it up, you won’t get cancer of the liver, which is almost guaranteed, from what I understand.”
Hep C is a viral infection that’s transmitted through blood, and, most commonly, through intravenous drug use. If it isn’t treated, it can lead to liver failure, cancer and even death.
Lamkins says he tried to get treatment several years ago, but at the time it required a weekly six-hour round trip to Portland to see a specialist, and he faced a regimen of medication with chemotherapylike side effects.
“It used to be that treatment was very very difficult to do,” says Dr. Alan Kilby, a gastroenterologist in Portland who specializes in liver disease.
Kilby says early treatment for hepatitis C was not only harsh, it had mediocre results.
“The cure rate was only about 40 percent overall,” he says.
That all changed when a drug called Sovaldi hit the market in 2014. It treated hepatitis C with one pill a day for two to three months, with few side-effects. Kilby says it was a miracle drug.
“The cure rate is practically 100 percent. It’s above 90 percent, certainly,” he says.
|Read Full Article: Drug Has A ‘Practically 100 Percent’ Cure Rate For Hepatitis C. So Why Do Any Mainers Live With It? | Maine Public|