The Hepatitis C Screen Door Swings Two Ways

My father-in-law wanted Viagra.  He wouldn’t shut up about it.  My mother-in-law finally said “Then what?  You’re not getting on me”  eewww, the visual for me….

So we screen for Hepatitis C, then what?

Attention Baby Boomers: The Centers For Disease Control (CDC), the group that tracks bird and swine flu, is thinking about screening you for Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is particularly dangerous because it is a silent killer. It can live for decades in a person’s body, slowly destroying the liver, while causing few symptoms,” said Dr. John Ward, director of the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis.

The new guidelines are expected to identify more than 800,000 infections, prevent 100,000 cases of cirrhosis, prevent more than 50,000 cases of liver cancer, and save more than 120,000 lives. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States.

The relatively inexpensive blood test is “a small investment now for a big benefit later,” Ward said.

The CDC believes routine blood tests will address the largely preventable consequences of the disease, especially in light of newly available therapies that can cure around 75 percent of infections.

The field has attracted broad interest with two new hepatitis C drugs, Incivek from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc and Merck & Co’s Victrelis, reaching the U.S. market in the past year.

Sorry about the blur, link at bottom if you are interested

Should we screen for Hepatitis C in patients over 50?  There is no vaccine, the standard treatment of Interferon/Ribavirin is about  $60,000 and the eradication rate about 40-50% in the most common genotype (1).  Adding  Boceprevir (Victrelis) is $1,000 a week (x 24 weeks = $24,000). Telaprevir (Incivik) is $4,100 per week (x 24 weeks = $98,000).  So treatment =  $80,000 to $158,000.  They must be really proud of Telaprevir.  At that price they may have to keep it.  All of this assumes 24 week treatment but it is common practice for those on Interferon/Ribavirin to go 48 weeks ($120,000 for dual therapy)

 

These are all rounded numbers and this does not include anything but the drug.  Side effects are horrible.  A few are nausea/vomiting/diarrhea/depression/suicidal and homicidal thoughts/hair loss/anemia/insomnia . The new drugs add full body rash, rectal itching and/or rectal bleeding.  (This reminds me of the old treatments for syphilis: mercury and arsenic).   Many patients cannot hang and drop out. Jobs are lost, families strained and the patients overwhelmed. And then there is that pesky liver transplant for those beyond pharmacologic help (drugs).

But there are currently over 4 million people infected in the US and the largest group are over 50 with long-term damage.  And there are new tests and treatments.  For instance, researchers recently identified a specific DNA sequence in the gene that codes an immune response regulator, called IL28b. Different IL28b sequences predict whether treatment will successfully clear the virus.

With that in mind Goldhaber-Fiebert and Liu of Stanford created a computer model looking for the line at where it makes sense to go through treatment.  Remember that these people think in terms of how many patients out of 1,00 people, not what YOU should do.

After intense statistical and simulation analysis, the model showed that the new triple therapies were indeed cost-effective for chronic hepatitis C patients with advanced liver disease. Despite the large price tag and side effects, the new treatments help these patients avoid costly cancers and liver transplants — as well as allowing them to live longer, higher-quality lives.

For those patients with mild disease, the model indicated that determining their IL-28B genotype is the best next step, before prescribing a treatment.  The closer the threat of severe disease, the more justified treatment costs and risks become, said Goldhaber-Fiebert. “That would be the bottom line.”

Though these new drugs may offer relatively desirable options now, both Goldhaber-Fiebert and Liu noted that additional, and perhaps more effective, drugs are already in clinical trials.”

So in the “State-The-Obvious” department  they conclude: “As more and better treatments become available, the decision will continue to evolve, requiring further analysis, patients and health systems could also benefit from price competition with multiple treatment options available. But ultimately, treatment decisions will remain a private conversation between a doctor and a patient. “

A bit chicken shit but common in the academic world.  All studies end in “Further research is needed”.  Which is academic speak for “See you at the next medical conference where I will have more data”.  Note the reference to “health systems”.  This includes the insurance company.

Now, as a taxpayer, I wonder where the money is coming from. You can see one reason a clinical trial is an attractive option.  I didn’t pay a nickel.  In fact they paid my gas and parking.  BTW my results from 12 week post treatment just came back “No detectable virus”.  So why do I have a trace of cynicism about drug companies pushing for testing?

My mom used to yell, “close the screen door, you are letting the flies out”.  I always thought that was funny. Regarding screening and insurance that may be true but not so funny.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_125350.html

http://health.yahoo.net/news/s/nm/all-baby-boomers-should-get-tested-for-hepatitis-c-cdc

http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2012/february/hepatitis.html

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One thought on “The Hepatitis C Screen Door Swings Two Ways

  1. Pingback: Hepatitis C: Does “No Detectable Virus” Equal Cure Or Is It Smoke? | heplikeme

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