Jul 12, 2022 - Health

Liver disease, deaths fall with lowered barriers to hepatitis drugs

Illustration of a turn over pill bottle the pills forming an upward trending arrow
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Treating intravenous drug users with hepatitis drugs at the community level significantly drove down liver disease and deaths over more than a decade, researchers reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: Injection drug use is one of the primary ways hepatitis C spreads, and sharing or reusing needles increases the chance of spreading the virus and exacerbates social and racial health disparities.

  • The study is the first to show how increasing access to treatment for the most at-risk individuals can drive down disease levels nationwide.

Details: The study followed more than 1,300 patients in Baltimore with chronic hepatitis-C from 2006 to 2019, using data from the ALIVE study, which followed adults with a history of injecting drugs.

  • The proportion of participants with detectable hepatitis C dropped from 100% to 48% over the 13-year timeframe.
  • Patients with undetectable hepatitis-C levels had significantly lower risk of death, the study found.
  • The cohort study did not administer hepatitis C treatment to patients, which meant that improved outcomes were due to community-based treatment.

The big picture: Hepatitis-C cases have increased each year since 2013, according to the CDC, and federal health agencies have been working to drive down infections nationwide to 35,000 by 2025.

  • By 2030, HHS wants to eliminate all viral hepatitis as a public health threat.
  • Access to treatment will help other communities reach this goal, the study authors write.
  • "With continued testing, treatment, and interventions to strengthen linkage to care and prevent (hepatitis-C) transmission, elimination of (hepatitis-C) infection could be achieved within the next decade," the study says.
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