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New treatments for Hepatitis C: Part 4 in a series on ANTHC support and prevention against liver disease and hepatitis

July 31, 2015

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can cause liver scarring, liver cancer and liver failure. It is estimated that 3 to 5 million Americans, about 2 to 3 percent of the population, have been infected with hepatitis C. Rates of hepatitis C are similar for Alaska Native and American Indian people and other ethnic groups in the U.S; however, there are greater risks for our people, with higher rates of liver failure, liver cancer, liver-related deaths and hospitalizations of Alaska Native and American Indian persons with hepatitis C infection. Successful treatment of hepatitis C can reverse scarring and reduce the risk of liver disease and liver disease-related death.

New hepatitis C treatment options supported by the ANTHC Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program are another way in which the program is improving the health of our people.

Historically, hepatitis C treatment was very difficult. Between 1992 and 2013, treatment options could last up to a year and consisted of interferon drug-based treatment administered by weekly injection and other oral drugs. The treatment frequently made a person feel sick during treatment and for several months after for many patients. During this time, 189 Alaska Native people statewide attempted the interferon-based treatments, and 102 persons quit the treatment regimen due to decreased health from the treatment itself. Of the 87 people that completed the interferon-based treatment, only 46 percent sustained virologic response post-treatment, meaning they are cured of hepatitis C.

In contrast, since 2013 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved multiple new direct acting antiviral drugs, which are oral medications taken daily for 8-24 weeks , 170 Alaska Native people statewide have started hepatitis C treatment. Only three people have quit this treatment, which have fewer side effects. The overall sustained virologic response for Alaska Native people who have completed treatment is 90 percent. For these Alaska Native people, being cured of hepatitis C reduces their risk of developing liver cancer, liver failure and liver-related death.

These new drugs are expensive, costing approximately $64,000 to $94,500 for a single course of treatment. However, the success rate and increased health of our people delivers value to the health of our people that cannot be measured in dollars. Through the leadership of the ANTHC Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program, ANMC Pharmacy and special kudos to RN Hannah Espera of the Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program, we have been able to acquire these medications. Any Tribal member who is ready for and wants hepatitis C treatment can receive the necessary treatment to cure their hepatitis C. Additionally, the Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program is conducting an ANTHC-sponsored post-marketing study of side effects of the new FDA-approved therapies in Alaska Native and American Indian persons. This study provides 200 courses of the new drugs resulting in significant cost-savings to the organization and informs research valuable to Alaska Native and American Indian people and their providers, since Tribal populations are not often included in clinical trials.

For more information about the prevention and education services of the Liver Disease & Hepatitis Program, please visit

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