A Silent Epidemic: Hepatitis C
Did you know that people born from 1945-1965 are five times more likely to have Hepatitis C? Dr. David Dies discusses Hepatitis C on KTBS Healthline 3. Watch the replay here or read about Hepatitis C below.
Dr. David Dies Q&A: Hepatitis C
How big a problem is Hepatitis C infection?
In the United States, it is estimated that 3.2 million persons are infected with HCV. To put it into perspective, there are 2.8 million with breast cancer, 2.5 million with prostate cancer and 0.9 million with HIV, so there are more people with hepatitis C than these other significant diseases. Sadly, between 50-75% of people with HCV do not even know that they have it.
What are the potential long term consequences of hepatitis C?
Between 60-70% will develop chronic liver disease. Approximately 20% will develop cirrhosis after 20-30 years of infection. After progression to cirrhosis, several studies estimate that somewhere there is between a 1 to 5 per cent chance of liver cancer per year. Further, after a diagnosis of cirrhosis, up to 1/3 of patients will start to develop liver failure over the next 10 years.
What medical specialty cares for the Liver?
While there is overlap in all medical specialties, the main specialist for the liver is called a Hepatologist. There are specialized training programs and even board certification in Hepatology. The Liver Center at GastroIntestinal Specialists has two Board certified Hepatologists, Dr. Humberto Aguilar and myself.
Can Hepatitis C be cured?
Of course it can, but in the past it was very difficult. In the early days we used injections of interferon and probably cured no more than 9%. Later, we found other drugs to add to the interferon injections and the cure rate increased to over 50% of the patients we treated. However, interferon had a lot of side effects.
Studies suggest that only about 10% of all patients with hepatitis C have been treated. Many chose not to be treated due to the side effects of therapy. This changed in the Fall of 2014 when the new direct acting antivirals (called DAA’s) were released.
As stated, the new medicines are called DAA’s. DAA’s are pill (not injections) that can be taken without any interferon shots. Our research has shown that we can successfully cure over 95% of patients with pills: there is no longer a need for the interferon injections. Our Liver center was recently recognized as the #2 prescriber of hepatitis medicine in the country. We have ongoing studies for even newer therapies for hepatitis C in our clinical research company, Louisiana Research Center.
What are the Side Effects of Treatment?
In the “old days” of interferon, patients basically felt like they had a bad case of the flu for 48 weeks. That is no longer the case as interferon will not be used much anymore. The newer therapies are pills initially given for just 12 weeks. Side effects of these pills are minor. It was the interferon that mainly gave the side effects.
When will the new medicines be released and when will they be available?
They are available now. There are several to choose from. More are expected to be released in the next 12-18 months.
Do you treat other kinds of liver disease?
Yes! We are the only private clinic in North Louisiana that has board certified doctors in Liver Medicine. We provide care in liver transplant medicine, cirrhosis care, liver masses, liver drug reactions, fatty liver disease, genetic liver disease, autoimmune hepatitis and just about any liver condition. We also have a large hepatitis B clinic.
What have been the biggest obstacles?
Most patients (and even health care providers) do not understand that most liver diseases now have a cure – including hepatitis C! However, the highest chance of cure is when we treat early, when the numbers are not that high and there are no symptoms.
How can I make an appointment?
You can make an appointment by calling (318) 631-9121.