2.4 MILLION people are living with hepatitis C in the USA, according to federal data, and many don’t know they have the virus. Rates of new liver cancer cases have also increased by 38% between 2003 and 2012. Offering important discovery in this concerning area, researchers at Henry Ford Health System, Detroit, Michigan, USA, have reported that patients with chronic hepatitis C treated with direct-acting antiviral medicines are less likely to be hospitalised or need care for liver and non-liver related health issues.
New antiviral medications have been shown to cure hepatitis C in 98% of patients enrolled. “The findings of our study show that curing hepatitis C not only gets rid of the virus, it also improves the overall health of patients,” were the comments of Dr Stuart Gordon, Director of the Division of Hepatology at Henry Ford, and lead investigator in this study. He went on to stress that their findings were “consistent with our earlier studies that showed effective treatment of hepatitis C also reduces the risk of patients developing other health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, stroke, and heart attacks.”
Researchers analysed data from 6,100 patients in this observational study, half of whom were treated with direct-acting antivirals (DAA) taken orally once daily for 8–12 weeks. This was led by Henry Ford, in collaboration with multiple health systems such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and including the Chronic Hepatitis Cohort Study (CHeCS), which assesses the impact of hepatitis C and B on the USA population. The work was the first examination of healthcare utilisation involving patients with hepatitis C with and without advanced liver disease, treated with DAAs. Key findings were that patients treated with DAAs had lower hospitalisation rates and shorter stays for liver- and non-liver-related health issues compared to those who did not receive DAAs; and patients treated with DAAs had fewer visits to the emergency department for liver disease-related issues compared to those who did not receive DAAs.
A limitation described in the study was the failure to quantify potential saving costs, but Dr Gordon did state: “There are tangible downstream benefits from these antiviral treatments,” and: “If you’re cured of the virus, your overall health will get better and you’re less likely to be hospitalised for some other health condition.” The future implications of this large-scale research, providing support for antiviral medications, are summarised in Gordon’s statement: “Given the remarkable effectiveness and benefits of these DAAs, everyone with hepatitis C should get treated and treated soon.”