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Progress and Challenges in Hepatitis C

Last Updated: May 12, 2011

May is Hepatitis Awareness Month.

Currently, more than 3 million people in the U.S. and 170 million worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV).  HCV-related liver disease and other health complications now claim an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 American lives each year – making HCV the fourth leading infectious cause of death in the U.S.  These numbers have been projected to increase substantially in the coming decade.Hepatitis Awareness Month

Fortunately, the past few weeks have brought news of promising developments that may help change these bleak projections:  Namely, the imminent approvals of two new drugs for HCV treatment – Merck and Co.’s boceprevir and Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ telaprevir.

In late April, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee unanimously recommended that both drugs be approved.  Their recommendation was based on extensive research indicating that each of these drugs can substantially increase HCV cure rates when added to the current standard-of-care regimen, consisting of the injectable drug interferon-alpha plus the antiviral pill ribavirin.  With the full backing of the advisory committee, both drugs are expected to gain FDA approval very soon.

In more troubling news, a recent study of HCV infection in Massachusetts found that there has been a substantial increase in acute (recent) HCV causes among young injection drug users (IDUs) between the ages of 15 and 24.  According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH), these new HCV cases were reported from all parts of the state, occurred mostly among non-Hispanic White persons, and were equally distributed among men and women. DPH noted, “The findings indicate the need for enhanced surveillance of HCV infection and intensified hepatitis C prevention efforts targeting adolescents and young adults.”

For more information about viral hepatitis, you can visit the HIV Health Library’s Hepatitis AHepatitis B, and Hepatitis C web pages, which have links to many fact sheets, articles, and reports about these infections.   You can also call AIDS Action’s toll-free Hepatitis Hotline at: (888) 443-4372.  Our Hotline counselors can answer your questions about hepatitis transmission, prevention, disease progression, and treatment options.

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