New computer models suggest that treating hepatitis C at the early stages is cost-effective, even when the high cost of the hepatitis C medications are taken into account.
Treating hepatitis C with expensive new medicines at the earliest signs of liver damage improves patients’ health and is also cost-effective, a new computer simulation suggests.
“Going into this, I expected to find it did make sense to wait until there was a limited amount of liver disease, but what we found to our surprise is that it makes sense to start treatment at the earliest change in the liver,” said senior author Dr. James Kahn, of the University of California, San Francisco.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread by blood. For most people, the infection becomes chronic, and about 20 percent of HCV infections result in liver damage, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Liver damage from HCV can lead to liver cancer or liver failure severe enough to warrant a liver transplant.
Over 3 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C, the researchers write in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Older drugs to fight hepatitis C required almost a year of treatment, had harsh side effects and didn’t always work. A new class of drugs cuts treatment time to 12 weeks or less and works in most people with the virus, but cost about $1,000 per day, they add.
While other studies found the new drugs to be cost effective, the new study looked at whether that’s true at each stage of liver damage. Some insurers won’t let patients take the drugs until their liver disease is advanced.