April 01, 2019
Among veterans willing and able to be treated, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) announced it is on track to eliminate the hepatitis C virus (HCV) in as few as two months.
According to the agency, as of March 3, 2019, approximately 116,000 veterans began all-oral hepatitis C medications in the VA. Of those veterans, 96,654 have completed treatment and are now cured.
Oftentimes HCV infection can lead to advanced liver disease (ALD), liver cancer, and death. Although treatment of HCV can prevent the development or progression of ALD, before 2014, HCV treatment required weekly interferon injections for up to a year, with low cure rates (35-55%). Further, significant physical and psychiatric side effects often lead to frequent early discontinuation.
“Up to that time, of the approximately 180,000 Veterans in VA care who had been diagnosed with chronic HCV infection, only 12,000 had been treated and cured, while over 30,000 had developed ALD,” the agency explained.
Once direct-acting antivirals became available in early 2014, the VA implemented an aggressive program to find all undiagnosed Veterans in VA care with HCV, which included those who did not know they carried the infection. The program then linked these veterans to HCV care, and offered them treatment with these new medications.
“At the peak of this effort to rapidly deploy all-oral direct-acting antivirals, VA began treating close to 2,000 Veterans with HCV every week; nearly one treatment started every minute of every work day.”
Following the push to identify and treat these veterans, the overall death rate one year after treatment reduced to 80%. Further, veterans cured of HCV with these medications were also less likely to develop liver cancer (84%).
“As the largest single provider of HCV care in the U.S., this is terrific news because it means we are within striking range of eliminating hepatitis C among Veterans under the care of the Veterans Health Administration,” Robert Wilkie VA secretary expressed. “Diagnosing, treating and curing hepatitis C virus infection among Veterans has been a significant priority for VA.”
The Department of Veteran Affairs. VA on path to cure 100,000 Veterans of hepatitis C [press release]. https://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=5219. Published March 18, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2019.