Hepatitis C virus

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The vast majority of U.S. patients who test positive for hepatitis C have not been cured because of the high cost of oral antiviral therapy and barriers to insurance plans, federal health officials said Thursday.

Hepatitis C is often called the silent killer because the initial infection has few symptoms. However, over time, the virus can lead to liver damage, liver cancer, liver failure and eventually death.

The virus is spread through exposure to the blood of an infected person, primarily through sharing needles and other equipment used to inject drugs.

breakthrough oral antiviral drug Gilead Sciences and AbbVie It has been in the US market for nearly ten years now. These pills, taken once a day for 8 to 12 weeks, cure more than 95 percent of hepatitis C cases.

Despite the availability of the drugs, only one-third of the 1 million adults in the U.S. who test positive for hepatitis C between 2013 and 2022 will be cured, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials estimate that as many as one million more people in the U.S. have been infected but do not know they have the virus.

According to the CDC, hepatitis C killed nearly 15,000 people in 2020.

“Thousands of people die every year in our country and many more are sick,” Dr Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s division of HIV and viral hepatitis, told reporters There are infections that can be cured for more than a decade,” the reporter said by phone on Thursday.

The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve $11 billion in funding for a national plan to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030. Dr. Francis Collins, who is leading the plan at the White House, said it would save thousands of lives and pay for itself by lowering health care costs.

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Health insurance and hepatitis care costs

Health officials say the main barriers to treatment are health insurance plan requirements and high treatment costs. Treatment costs can run as high as $24,000 per patient.

Dr. Carolyn West, head of the CDC’s viral hepatitis division, said some health insurers require patients to obtain onerous preauthorization to receive the drug and also limit which health care providers can prescribe it.

Collins, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, said community health centers that treat the uninsured cannot provide medicines to everyone. According to the CDC, only one in four uninsured adults diagnosed with hepatitis C has been cured.

Collins told reporters Thursday that even the state Medicaid program imposes onerous requirements, such as evidence of liver disease, sobriety and the involvement of specialists. The high cost of the drugs makes it difficult for Medicaid to treat everyone infected, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said.

Under Biden’s proposal, the federal government would pay pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead and AbbVie a one-time payment for the drugs. The companies would then provide the drugs free of charge to uninsured state Medicaid programs, the prison system and people living on Native American reservations.

The proposal builds on a model Louisiana rolled out in 2019 in which the state paid Gilead subsidiary Asegua Therapeutics a lump sum of enough drugs over five years to cure nearly all Medicaid patients and the incarcerated.

The National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration are also working to approve a rapid hepatitis C test that would provide a diagnosis in an hour or less, Collins said. The test will be used to diagnose and treat patients in one go, he said.


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