May is Hepatitis Awareness Month. I’ve been reflecting on the many hepatitis C advances in the past year. Hepatitis C treatment has improved dramatically, with cure rates above 90%. The drugs to treat hepatitis C are easier to tolerate, and the lengths of treatment are getting shorter. I was the benefactor of these advances. I am a hepatitis C survivor, curing the virus on my 3rd treatment.
Less than a year ago, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) announced its recommendations to screen adults born between 1945 and 1965 for hepatitis C. This test is a preventive service with no cost to the individual. Although not implemented yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that age-based screening will identify 800,000 Baby Boomers who might otherwise live in the dark if only did risk-based hepatitis C testing was performed. Furthermore, 120,000 lives may be saved by age-based testing.
I believe the biggest hurdles are screening for hepatitis C, and once hepatitis C-positive persons are identified, linking them to care. The Affordable Care Act has a long way to go before it provides health care to everyone. In the meantime, we can continue to increase awareness, chip away at the stigma associated with hepatitis C, and hang on to hope.