Hepatitis C deaths peaked in 2014, but now the tide has turned.
The year 2014 reached a gloomy record, when statistics revealed this to be the year with the highest number of hepatitis C-related deaths ever. (This is the most recent year with statistics available.) This followed on the heels of several years with an upward trend in hepatitis C deaths. Baby Boomers, who had been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, were only now reaching the fatal consequences of this liver disease, which accounts for the wave of hepatitis C deaths that peaked in 2014.
Yet, there is hope in this story. The rise in hepatitis C deaths may finally be slowing down as the result of several new direct-acting antiviral medications that cure the hepatitis C virus. The public service message about hepatitis C risk continues to reach Baby Boomers, stressing the importance of getting screened for this virus, and then treating if necessary.
For years, liver care experts braced for this rising wave of Baby Boomers with hepatitis C infection – often feeling powerless to alleviate the anticipated health risks of cirrhosis and liver cancer that untreated hepatitis C would bring. Only when interferon-free treatments gained FDA approval, did hope shine into this picture. With those new medications, perhaps this onslaught of liver damage could be lessened – and fortunately that is what happened.
Since then; however, two new hurdles have emerged. First, there’s the cost issues related to the high price tag of the hepatitis C medications. Insurers have balked and related lawsuits are pushing back on restrictions to who can receive these medications. Second, there’s an unexpected second wave of hepatitis C infections in the opioid addict population (injection drug users). It remains to play out how insurers will deal with hepatitis C treatment’s high price tag, especially in those still injecting drugs.
Goodnough A. Hepatitis C deaths in U.S. rose in 2014, but new drugs hold promise. NY Times May 4, 2016.
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