Research

Research presented at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases meeting this week suggests the United States Veteran Healthcare Administration could potentially cure almost all U.S. veterans in its care who have hepatitis C (HCV) within two-to-three years.

Dr. George Ioannou
Dr. George Ioannou

“We now have well-tolerated, safe and effective medications that can eradicate hepatitis C in the vast majority of patients following short, 12-week courses of treatment. This has been one of the greatest medical revolutions in the last 20 years,” said Dr. George Ioannou, associate professor of medicine (Gastroenerology), director hepatology at Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and lead investigator in the study. 

Ioannou’s team identified 107,079 instances of hepatitis C antiviral treatment regimens being used in the VA healthcare system between 1999 and 2015. They defined treatment rates and cure rates based on the documentation a negative HCV viral load (i.e., no signs of the virus) at least 12 weeks after the end of treatment.

“The introduction of effective direct antiviral agents together with the allocation of appropriate funds and resources allowed the VA healthcare system to treat and cure hepatitis C in unprecedented numbers,” explained Ioannou. “In fact, out of approximately 57,500 patients cured of hepatitis C in the VA since 1999, approximately half (28,084) were cured in a single year – 2015.”

In 2016, there have been further increases in funding and reductions in cost for direct acting antivirals (DAAs) in the VA system. As of February 2016, the VA is providing unrestricted access to all DAAs for all eligible patients. This, combined with the trends over the past 16 years, leads Ioannou to believe the VA is potentially within three years of curing the majority of U.S. veterans with HCV.