Year in Review

What were the top five HCV-related stories of 2012?
by Larry Buhl

There were many important news stories about hepatitis in 2012. In this column we review the biggest Hep Talk stories of the past year and cover a few that slipped through the cracks. The developments with the biggest possible impacts were the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of testing all baby boomers, and the stellar results from DDA trials, which suggest a quick path to an interferon-free HCV therapy.

Encouraging DAA Phase II Trial Results
A large number of reports were released at this year’s American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) Conference about the new DAA clinical trial results [A&U, October 2012] from various combination studies, including ones led by Abbott, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Gilead. Many studies showed cure rates approaching ninety to 100 percent, lower side effects when compared to PEG/RBV-containing regimes, and shorter treatment durations. The Phase II trial results in 2012 suggest that an interferon-free HCV therapy will likely be available in less than five years.

CDC Recommends Baby Boomer Testing
In May 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published their recommendation for a one-time HCV antibody test for everyone born between 1945 and 1965, known as the Baby Boomer cohort [A&U, June 2012]. Just one test of all the members of that generation may identify 800,000 people with hepatitis C, preventing liver cancer and perhaps saving 120,000 lives, the Center said. Identifying the virus in as many people as possible early in the disease’s progression would also save money, the CDC said.

Outbreaks of HCV in Healthcare Settings
Several HCV outbreaks occurred at medical centers in 2012. The worst was at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire. A traveling medical technician was charged with switching syringes from one filled with a painkiller to one filled with saline solution. The technician, David Kwiatkowski, was accused of infecting more than thirty people with hepatitis C. In December, he pleaded not guilty to multiple charges. If convicted, he could face a prison sentence up to ninety-eight years. Because Kwiatkowski also worked in other hospitals, investigations are ongoing in medical centers across seven states. The case has finally shined a light on the light regulations governing medical technicians and the inability of employers to screen applicants through background checks.

New Prevention & Assistance Initiatives
On May 18, which was declared National HCV Testing Day, testing initiatives were sponsored in over twenty cities across the U.S. The goal was to raise the level of awareness and diagnosis of hepatitis in the general population. In addition, a national helpline for people with hepatitis C was launched in 2012. The national helpline is composed of various regional HCV-related organizations that can provide local support services to people in need. The number is 1 (877) help-4-hep.

Deaths from HCV Surpassed HIV
This one was from late 2011 [A&U, December 2011], but it sparked discussions throughout 2012 about the need to fund HCV at levels commensurate with the human toll it takes. At the 62nd AASLD Conference in San Francisco, the CDC released a study that looked at deaths between 1999 and 2007 and found that the annual deaths from HCV (15,106) surpassed deaths from HIV (12,734). The report also found that deaths from HBV were 1,815 and many of the HCV and HIV deaths were in people who had coinfections. The report’s prescription for reducing all hepatitis-related deaths: “New policy directions and commitment to detect and link infectious persons to care and successful treatment.”

Larry Buhl is a radio news reporter, screenwriter, and novelist living in Los Angeles. His young adult novel, The Genius of Little Things, debuted in January 2013. His comic mystery novel, We’re Here to Help, will be available later in 2013.

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