More than 3 million Americans and counting are infected with Hepatitis C, and while there is a cure, until now, available treatments were grueling and only 70 percent effective. However, new drug options may now make patients' lives easier. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Hepatitis C patients are excited about recently FDA-approved treatment options now available that promise to be gentler and more effective.
"We want to get it as soon as possible," says Russell Myers, a client with Harlem United and a peer mentor. "I want to live, just like everybody else."
Russell Myers contracted HIV and Hepatitis C in the '70s through drug use. He's now clean and serves as a peer mentor and patient in Harlem United's co-infection program, which holds weekly support meetings.
Myers failed to finish the grueling Hep-C treatment in the early '90s, but made it through the nearly year-long process last year, only to find out that he wasn't cured.
"It was a low blow," he says. "I've seen a lot of people die from cirrhosis of the liver and not getting treatment."
There's a 30 to 40 percent non-responsive rate for those that undergo the old treatment, a cocktail of up to 14 pills a day and interferon shots once a week. It's accompanied by debilitating flu-like side effects.
Late last year, the FDA approved two new treatments, the most groundbreaking of which is sofosbuvir-branded Sovaldi™ from Gilead Sciences, which can be used with or without an interferon shot.
"With the new medication, it is possible to treat as short as 12 weeks," says Dr. Vera Antonios, an infectious diseases physician with Harlem United. "You're going to have better response rate, which is the most important thing."
For those co-infected with HIV, they're looking at 24 weeks of treatment.
The outlook is even better for Hep-C drugs still in trial phase.
The new treatment options come as health professionals prepare for what's expected to be a significant increase in Hepatitis C diagnoses and deaths among baby boomers.
The CDC believes that with more screening, another 800,000 baby boomers will discover they have Hep-C.
These landmark advances in treatment, though, offer a silver lining.
"It’ll be just more of a motivating element for them to really take charge and take care of themselves," says Brooke Wyatt, coordinator of the Hepatitis C co-infection program with Harlem United.
The new treatments are extremely expensive, but Gilead Sciences has promised to help those who can't afford it.