Hepatitis C advances

Health Check : Hepatitis C advances

Diagnosing a silent killer before it does its damage.

Hepatitis C affects about 3 and a half million Americans yet only half of those affected know it.

69 year old Richard Ethier, who lives in Harmony part of the year, was diagnosed with hepatitis C 18 years ago after 35 years of heavy drinking.

"I would kill a good size bottle every day. Every day!"

And that led to his drug use, all of it taking a toll.

"He gave me the diagnosis,” said Ethier of his doctor, Thomas Sepe, of University Gastroenterology.

"He was treated with some of the old fashioned drugs that had just horrific side effect and were really a major challenge to get people through those therapies," said Sepe.

"It worked,” said Ethier who admits getting through that year long treatment was hell.

But, it proved to be his cure. These days, hepatitis C is so much easier to treat.

"The drug therapies now are revolutionary. We can cure almost everyone with hepatitis C," said Sepe, who explained there are two primary treatments and one “rescue” treatment for those who fail the other two.

And that's why Sepe says all baby boomers and anyone else involved in risky behaviors should be tested.

Ethier found out even though his hepatitis was cured, it didn’t eliminate his risk for liver damage, or cirrhosis.

But, now, he doesn’t have to go in for a surgical biopsy.

"This is a technology called elastography where a sound wave is passed in to the liver," explained Sepe of a type of ultrasound FDA approved under the name Fibroscan.

"The key things we learn: what type of damage is in the liver.” This test takes five to ten minutes in the doctor’s office and results are immediate. That’s how Ethier now knows he has some liver damage. He also knows he’ll be followed closely to make sure it doesn’t progress.

"In 6 months we'll do it again,” said Sepe.

Sepe says there is an emerging threat--beyond increased IV drug use-- and it's fatty liver disease, which in part, is due to the obesity epidemic. He says the estimates are 100 million people now have fatty liver disease which puts them at higher risk of liver disease. This ultrasound being able to detect that too.

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