July 9, 2003
The treatment, which costs in excess of $20,000, has been shown to lengthen the lives of hepatitis C patients who have existing liver damage. But a majority of hepatitis C patients do not develop liver damage before dying of other causes, so the drug treatment may not be cost-effective or helpful for them, according to the report from the Harvard School of Public Health's Center for Risk Analysis.
Most of the 25,000 new U.S. cases of hepatitis C annually are infected through sharing needles or from receiving blood from an infected donor. But four out of five have no symptoms, and many of them are unaware they have it.
The disease's progression varies considerably and milder cases, especially among women, may never progress to cirrhosis. The report's analysis showed that the probability of infected men developing cirrhosis over a 30-year period was between 13 percent and 46 percent, and among women the probability was between 1 percent and 29 percent.
The full report, "Cost-Effectiveness of Treatment for Chronic Hepatitis C Infection in an Evolving Patient Population," is published in the July 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (2003;290(2):228-237).