Hepatitis C

The next issue of The Medical Letter (October 15, 2012) features an article on Drugs for Hepatitis C. The impetus for an article on this subject was a recent recommendation from the CDC that everyone in the US born between 1945 and 1965 (the boomers!) be tested for hepatitis C infection. For reasons that are not clear, people born during those years, the CDC says on its web site, are 5 times more likely than other US adults to have hepatitis C infection. Patients with chronic hepatitis C infection are at risk for hepatic cirrhosis, hepatic failure, and hepatocellular cancer. Once the diagnosis is made, new drugs (the subject of our article) can eradicate the infection.

Hepatitis C used to be called nonA-nonB (NANB) hepatitis. It was associated with blood transfusions that were followed by clinical hepatitis that was not caused by hepatitis A or hepatitis B. Once the hepatitis C virus was isolated, it turned out that it could be acquired in other ways besides transfusion, but except for sexual transmission, which is uncommon, it generally has to be injected for the infection to be transmitted. In developed countries, illicit drug use is the main mechanism of disease transmission; hepatitis C is more prevalent in IV drug abusers than either HIV or hepatitis B. In developing countries, re-use of needles for medical procedures seems to be the most common mode of transmission. The good news is that we now have drugs that can cure this disease. But they cost more than $60,000 per patient. And there were a lot of people born between 1945 and 1964. That makes for some scary multiplication.

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  1. Francis Dann says:

    Hepatitis C infection may be more common in Baby Boomers because males in that generation group had a high rate of heroin use while stationed in VietNam.

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