Hepatitis C Still on RIse

The new antivirals for hepatitis C have a growing target market. According to the latest CDC analysis, the infection is on the rise in the US. One expert calls for making HCV testing a new quality metric for providers.

The roster of new antivirals for treating hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection should find a growing market.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an updated surveillance report shows that new cases of HCV rose to 2,138 in 2013 from 1,778 in 2012. But these reported cases are likely only a fraction of the total number of actual cases, the CDC noted.

In estimating that number of people with HCV infection, the CDC multiplies by 13.9. Its statisticians calculate that in 2013, the actual number of cases is likely 29,700 but that the range is 23,500 to 101,400.

The infection is silent until patients develop serious illness, including liver cancer or cirrhosis.

Physicians are hoping that the availability of the new drugs—there are now 8—with more candidates in the pipeline, will encourage physicians to offer patients HCV screening.

“Every adult 45 and over should be screened,” said Santiago Munoz, MD, chief of hepatology and liver failure unit at Hahnemann University Hospital. Munoz also favors incorporating HCV screening into the “quality metrics” that Medicare and other insurers are using to reward health care systems for offering good care.

“In the US the official figures of people with HCV are about 2 million, but we do know that certain groups are excluded from screening countings used to extrapolate to the rest of the country,” Munoz said, “Prisoners have a frequency of hepatitis C anywhere between 20% to 40% and the veterans, the homeless, the underserved, the marginally or non-insured are not part of the evaluation.”

He hopes the availability of the new drugs will lead to new public health strategies for getting people screened.”

“These medications are allowing us to cure so many people,” he said.