Potential Is Great to Detect, Successfully Treat Hepatitis C Virus

With new treatments that can eliminate the hepatitis C virus in most cases, addiction medicine specialists are in a unique position to help their patients prevent the debilitating downstream consequences of the virus. Learn how you can make a difference by attending Symposium 7 from 2 to 4 pm today in Continental B, lobby level of the Hilton Chicago. Leading experts will address the question, “Hepatitis C in 2013: Where Are We, Who Should We Treat and With What Should We Treat?”

“We now have a much better ability to treat the most common genotype of hepatitis C, which is genotype 1, with a new class of drugs, hepatitis C protease inhibitors. These drugs bring cure rates as high as 70 to 75 percent,” said symposium organizer and speaker Michael Fingerhood, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “Hepatitis C is the No. 1 cause of patients needing a liver transplant in the United States. It especially afflicts people with a history of drug use and addiction, and we have a chance to have an amazing impact on hepatitis C.”

The goal of the symposium is not for audience members to learn how to prescribe treatment for hepatitis C but rather to gain a basic understanding of hepatitis C, he said. What is hepatitis C? How do people get it? What is the epidemiology? Who is at risk? What is its ultimate impact on patients? What are its costs? How do we screen for it?

Discovering answers to these questions will equip addiction medicine specialists to respond to patients’ questions and to encourage them to obtain the blood test for hepatitis C, Dr. Fingerhood said. Additionally, it will be important to understand what patients will go through in taking complicated protease inhibitor treatment injections and how to support patients in this process.

“We will also address a newer class of medications that will be available by the end of 2014, which will make hepatitis C treatment even easier for patients to tolerate,” Dr. Fingerhood said. “Moving forward, treatment regimens will be pills, not injections.”

Symposium 7 also will feature discussion about models of care for treating hepatitis C. Delivery models range from direct, in-office urban care for patients to physicians in rural settings collaborating with experts in large tertiary centers to provide state-of-the-art treatment.

Sharing their perspectives will be symposium speakers Dr. Fingerhood, who will address hepatitis C basics; Andrew Talal, MD, MPH, Chief, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, who will discuss new medications to treat the virus; and Sanjeev Arora, MD, professor of medicine, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, who will present various care models for treating infected patients.

“It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of people in the United States have hepatitis C and don’t know it,” Dr. Fingerhood said. “Certainly every patient with a history of substance abuse should be tested. For reasons we don’t understand, 25 percent of individuals with alcohol addiction test positive to hepatitis C, and there is the sexual transmission route component as well. With better treatments available, it’s particularly important learn patients’ hepatitis C virus status.”