Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. The virus is present in the blood of an infected person and can be spread through blood-to-blood contact. It is commonly spread through sharing unsterile needles, syringes and other injecting drug equipment.
Prior to 1988 (when Hep C was formally identified) Hepatitis C was known as non-A, non-B hepatitis. We did not have a test for it until 1991 meaning that in the 1970s and 1980s many people unwittingly contracted it, not from IV drug use but from blood transfusions and tattoos.
Long term about 10% of people with Hepatitis C will die of complications including cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Most people with the disease suffer a long term chronic fatigue and carry with them an ever present fear of infecting close contacts.
Up until recently treatments for Hepatitis C were problematic and sufferer from 5 main issues:
- Poor cure rates of < 50%
- Prolonged treatment times of 26-52 weeks
- Limited access due to the need for regular injections mandating presentation to a medical facility
- Limited access due to the high cost and resource limitations (waiting lists)
- Extremely unpleasant side effect leading many who have been treated to rate the treatment as being worse than the disease
Recently 12 week combination oral treatments have become available. These treatments have the advantages of:
- Once daily oral tablet delivery suitable for outpatient treatment
- High cure rates > 90% for most patients
- Minimal side effects
- 12 week (84 day) treatment duration
Unfortunately the current price tag is circa $100,000 per patient. Fortunately several countries including the manufacturing powerhouses India and China did not recognise the patent and produce these medications at 1/50th of the price meaning it's possible to get treated for a few, rather than a hundred thousand dollars.