An estimated 170 million people worldwide, including 3 to 5 million Americans, are infected with the hepatitis C virus, which can sit dormant for years before causing serious liver damage. As many as three quarters of those with the disease don t know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The virus is spread by shared needles, blood transfusions administered before 1992, and unprotected sex with someone who has the virus.
Now there are two new developments that offer some hope for fighting the virus. First, new rapid blood tests are now available to accurately diagnose hepatitis C in from 5 to 30 minutes, according to the Annals of Internal Medicine. Traditional tests take weeks. Unfortunately the Food and Drug Administration has only approved one rapid test, which is only for groups at risk for or showing signs of infection, rather than the general population.
In addition, Abbott Laboratories this week reported positive results from a mid-stage clinical trial of an experimental drug regimen to clear the virus. The drugs cleared the virus in 76 out of 77 patients who hadn t received prior treatment, Abbott reported. While more testing is required, Abbott hopes to begin marketing the new hepatitis C therapy by 2015.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, who was a researcher in the field for many years, continues to be amazed by the efficacy of the Abbott drug cocktail. I ve been keeping an eye on these trials for a year and the data seem to get better as the trials progress, he states. While it is amazing that 99 percent of treatment-naive patients saw their viral counts drop below the limit of detection after 12 weeks, the truly incredible number is the response rate for patients who had already been previously treated with the standard therapy at that time, but did not respond. Ninety-three percent of this group showed the same decrease in viral load. Just one year ago these patients were out of luck. Now they can be cured.