Liver specialists at New York Methodist Hospital (NYM) are pushing cure rates for hepatitis C to new heights using breakthrough medications recently approved by the FDA. The drugs, sofosbuvir and simeprevir, are taken orally. A standard course of treatment takes only three months, and it appears that it is successful over 90 percent of the time.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) affects the liver, and may impact as many as four million Americans. The disease is commonly spread by injecting drugs with shared needles, sharing razors and toothbrushes, getting tattoos or body piercings with tools that are not sterile, being born to a mother with HCV, or getting a blood transfusion or transplant prior to 1992.
HCV may not be diagnosed for years, because it often has no symptoms at first. The symptoms may include yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice), loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain and extreme fatigue. However, by the time symptoms emerge, hepatitis C may already have caused considerable damage and scarring (cirrhosis) to a patient's liver. The danger of leaving hepatitis C untreated is so great that, beginning this April, New York State health professionals will be required to recommend that all "baby boomers" (those born between 1945 and 1965) have a blood test for HCV.
In addition to a higher cure rate for hepatitis C, a key advantage of the new medications is their ability to reduce the role that interferon plays in hepatitis C treatment. For almost 30 years, the injection of interferon has been a cornerstone of chronic hepatitis C management. Interferon inhibits the growth of HCV and can help control the disease. But, though formulas of interferon have grown more sophisticated over time, the negative side-effects have remained: fatigue, fever, anxiety, depression, muscle ache and headache. For patients with hepatitis C, the days of those side effects may be over. Though a combination that includes interferon is still best, these medications suppress its side effects, making the treatment far easier for a patient.
"No single medication is a 'magic bullet,'" said Smruti Mohanty, M.D., chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at NYM. "A combination regimen for an individual with hepatitis C must be devised very carefully to offer the greatest chance for successful, cost-effective treatment. However, these medications are truly a leap forward, and an opportunity to provide a real cure for a disease that affects so many. At NYM, we've long been dedicated to providing comprehensive care for our hepatitis C patients, from monthly support groups to advanced surgical procedures to treat complications of the disease. To be able to give these patients the greatest real opportunity to leave hepatitis C behind altogether is incredible."
New York Methodist Hospital (NYM), a voluntary, acute-care teaching facility located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, houses 651 inpatient beds (including bassinets) and provides services to about 40,000 inpatients each year. An additional 350,000 outpatient visits and services are logged annually. The Hospital, founded in 1881, has undergone extensive renovation and modernization over the years. NYM has Institutes in the following areas: Advanced and Minimally Invasive Surgery, Asthma and Lung Disease; Cancer Care; Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery; Digestive and Liver Disorders; Diabetes and Other Endocrine Disorders; Vascular Medicine and Surgery; Family Care; Neurosciences; Orthopedic Medicine and Surgery and Women’s Health. New York Methodist Hospital is affiliated with the Weill Cornell Medical College and is a member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System.