Research Shows Hepatitis C C…Contrary to popular belief, hepatitis C is often spread through sex between men. Some men are co-infected with HIV and hepatitis C, and advocacy groups are trying to test those at highest risk and get them access to life-saving drugs.
Research Shows Hepatitis C Can Spread Through Sex
Doctors have long believed that hepatitis C, a deadly liver disease, is primarily spread by sharing needles. But they’ve also known that people with HIV are much more likely to contract hepatitis C.
Now medical professionals are buzzing about the disease and challenging conventional wisdom about how the illness spreads. Dr. Daniel Fierer of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City has provided trailblazing evidence that shows hepatitis C is often spread through sex by men who have sex with men.
Once upon a time, a liver transplant was the only option to treat advanced hepatitis C, but new medications now offer a 90 percent cure rate. And while much of the focus on the most prominent drug Sovaldi has been on its $1,000 per pill price-tag, the medication is a “game changer,” according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, a critical care physician and infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Doctors and public health officials have launched aggressive testing campaigns and have begun lobbying lawmakers, pharmaceutical companies, and insurance companies to make sure the new medications are accessible.
“Hepatitis C increasingly is being recognized as a major public health problem,” Adalja told Healthline.
Learn More: What Does Hepatitis C Look Like? »
One Man’s Diagnosis
Kevin Maloney of Columbus, Ohio, learned he had HIV and hepatitis C in 2010. He told Healthline that he knows one thing for sure: “I got it from sex. I never shared a needle.”
Maloney’s story is familiar to many people who become infected with HIV. He had sex he knew was risky, and three weeks later, he developed a fever and body aches. “I thought, ‘Oh no, I have it,’” he said. “I went to the doctor and sure enough, I came back positive.”
Blood tests also revealed hepatitis C. The doctor first stabilized Maloney with antiretroviral medication, which boosted his T-cell count from 300 to 400 and suppressed his viral load to undetectable levels. He was then placed on a regimen of ribavirin and interferon to treat the hepatitis C.
Maloney was lucky. His doctor achieved a cure in six months with this older drug regimen, which is only about 40 to 50 percent effective, even after 12 months. Because Maloney’s hepatitis C was caught early, in the acute phase, treatment had a better chance of success. Even today, with new drugs, treatment in the chronic phase can prove difficult. The disease becomes chronic after about three to six months without treatment.
The drug treatment had bad side effects for Maloney. Interferon, which suppresses the immune system, is hard on the body. It significantly lowered his T-cell and white blood cell counts and caused headaches and extreme anxiety, a known side effect.
Related News: Can Hepatitis C Be Cured.
Study Shows Hepatitis C Can Be an STI
Fierer treated Maloney as part of research he conducted between 2005 and 2010. Fierer and his colleague Dr. Doug Dieterich, a renowned liver specialist at Mount Sinai, had seen several hepatitis C patients toward the end of 2005 who claimed they were not intravenous drug users. “They did not have the typical risk factors,” Fierer said of the patients, who were men who had sex with men.
He set out to find other HIV-infected men with hepatitis C in New York City. What he found was an increasing number of gay and bisexual men contracting hepatitis C through sex. Meanwhile, the number becoming infected through intravenous drug use was dropping.