Hepatitis C Virus 25th Anniversary

25th anniversary of the discovery of Hepatitis C Virus, one of the greatest discoveries of human medicine, has passed rather silently on June 20th of this year………

A little history……………..

People have been afflicted with Hepatitis C Virus, a RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus, for a long time but we had no test for it. We knew that it was neither Hepatitis A nor B viruses, for which tests were available and therefore, we gave it a poor man’s name: Hepatitis Non-A, Non-B virus. Thus, this reclusive virus was described for decades.

What happened in 1989 and who are the heroes of medicine in this discovery? 

Like any modern discovery, there is no single hero in this great discovery. The earth-shattering coup de maitre work took place between 1982-1988 in Chiron Laboratory under the direction of Dr. M. Houghton, Dr. George Kuo and Dr. Dan Bradley (from CDC- Center for Disease Control and Prevention). But the unsung, unlamented and uncelebrated heroes of this great discovery are the hundreds of chimpanzees who were experimentally infected with this so called “Hepatitis Non-A, Non-B Virus,” who sacrificed their own life, unwillingly, so we could live.

 How is the work on Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) different in human history?

There has always been ground-breaking work in human medicine but what is different in Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is the speed and fervor of work that took place. Never, in human history has a virus been discovered, characterized, and had treatment devised in such a lightning speed. IN THIS WAY THE HISTORY OF HEPATITIS C IS THE HISTORY OF HUMANITY, and of how far we came.

More people die from Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) than from AIDS:

In 2007, fifteen-thousand people died of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), as opposed to AIDS, from which thirteen-thousand people died. As the baby boomers get older carrying the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), and the silent disease keeps on circulating, causing clandestine damage to the human body, disparity will keep on increasing.

How do i know if I have Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)?

This is the billion dollar question! Unfortunately, it is a cryptic disease causing silent damage and eating up the host from inside out, without any warning. So the first sign of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is NO SIGN AT ALL! This is why it has been dubbed as the “Silent Killer”. So when one generally develops signs and symptoms, these are due to complications of this disease and may be too late in some cases.

When present, these are some common symptoms: fatigue, weakness, bleeding tendencies, bruises, swelling of feet or body, jaundice, itching, change of mental status from depression to euphoria, vomiting of blood, anemia, muscle atrophy or loss of muscle mass, poor appetite, change of normal sleep rhythm, confusion, etc.

Screening and diagnosing Hepatitis C Virus (HCV):

Because it is silent, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people born between 1945 to 1965 be screened for this virus. Others who should be tested includes people who have the risk factors and symptoms of any age group.

Sobering news for the Baby Boomers:

3% of the cases of this virus is with the baby boomer generation, which means three out of every four Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infected people belong to this generation.

How difficult is the test for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)?

This is the good news! Only blood tests are necessary for initial diagnosis. Quite easy.

I have Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) but no symptoms, why should I be treated?

One should be treated to prevent the complications of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), as it is called the “silent killer.” Its complications are liver failure, liver cancer, cirrhosis and all the signs listed above. In fact, Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) has become the number one cause of liver transplant in our country as a result of this problem.

Liver Cancer and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV):

About 2.5% of people will go onto develop liver cancer from Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).

Cirrhosis and Hepatitis C Virus (HCV):

 

About 20-25% people with chronic Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) develop cirrhosis in their life time

Is there a good treatment for Hepatitis C Virus (HCV)?

This is the best news on Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). For the first time, we have a treatment that can eventually eradicate Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), like the Small Pox or Polio, although the latter is close to but not yet totally eradicated. Over the decades, there has been a silent revolution and evolution of the treatment of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). When treatment first started with Interferon in the late 80’s to early 90’s, the success rate was in the range of 5-10%, which has steadily increased in 2013 to 90-95%! More importantly, there is accumulating evidence that Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) could be also be treated with oral drugs and for even a shorter duration, like 8 weeks as opposed to 12 weeks! There is hardly any better story to compete with the success of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) treatment in modern medicine.

For future………………………..

The tools and science to rid mankind of Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is already in our hands. The success will depend on public education, reaching out, motivated physician specialists, and motivated patients and family members as to how they approach this “silent epidemic” lurking among ourselves.

Lest we forget…………………...

In the dizzying euphoria of victory, let us not forget to thank the dedicated scientists, private and public institutions like the Chiron Lab and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the numerous chimpanzees who have sacrificed their life to bring such good news for humanity. On the whole, it is a story of reconfirmation of our beloved country, the USA and its leadership in the pursuit of knowledge and serving humanity. What we need to recognize is, this victory is no less important than many other victories we have achieved in service of humanity. I only pray to God that He keeps our focus and purpose alive in such pursuits and “In God We Trust”.

 

 

This was written by Dr. Nizam Meah, M.D. This is copyright material as of June 23, 2014

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