Treatment for those living with this potentially fatal disease used to take nearly a year, now two new medications available in the panhandle could cut that in half.
"It's a breakthrough in that it virtually doubles our chance of getting rid of the virus, from about 40-50%, which we used to think was pretty good, to around 80% for most people. It also shortens the duration for therapy for most of them as well," says Gastroenterologist at Amarillo Diagnostics, Dr. Daniel Beggs.
Dr. Beggs is now treating Hepatitis C patients with Bocepprevir and Telaprevir. He says the two recently approved FDA drugs poison the virus, stopping it from reproducing.
That allows other older medications typically involved in treatment to rid the body of the disease...something most of his patients have been waiting years for.
"We're pretty psyched! We see a lot of Hep C and it's a pretty frustrating disease because until now, it's been very hard to get rid of. This significantly improves chances of making people Hep C free," he said.
The blood-borne virus is typically a-symptomatic and can take years or even decades before causing enough liver damage to produce symptoms. Some of those exposed to Hep C recover from the virus on their own, but the majority develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
"It's a big deal. Hep C is the most common reason to need a liver transplant in the United States, and about 2 out of every 10 people who get Hep C get liver disfunction so severe that they would be considered in need of a transplant."
One drawback to the new medications is the cost. A course of therapy of Boceprevir and Telaprevir costs thousands of dollars. But Dr. Beggs says most insurance companies do cover it, and for those that do not, there are some programs available to help provide the medications.
Almost anyone can be a candidate for treatment for Hepatitis C, but a liver biopsy is typically required to determine if the patient has enough scarring or inflammation to determine they may develop problems long-term.