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Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Mavyret, an eight-week pill regimen developed by the pharmaceutical company AbbVie which cures all six major strains of hepatitis C (HCV).
HCV is a blood-borne viral infection which can cause painful liver damage (cirrhosis), liver failure and death.
Are gay and bi men at a greater risk for contracting hepatitis C?
Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that HCV has a higher incidence of transmission among gay and bi men — especially if they participate in high-risk activities like injection drug use and other methods of blood sharing — risk indicators for the sexual transmission of HCV among gay and bi men have been inconsistent in previous studies.
Positively Aware magazine says that despite the CDC’s warning, gay and bi men are not generally more susceptible to the disease than the average person.
How is this newly approved FDA hepatitis C treatment different from previous ones?
Other pill treatments for HCV have existed before last week. According to cbsnews.com, earlier HCV treatments involved “grueling shots and pills that gave patients flu-like symptoms and still barely cured half of them.” Earlier forms of HCV drugs only treated patients with certain strains of HCV or those at particular stages of the disease.
In 2013, the pharmaceutical company Gilead introduced the first pill-only treatments that cured HVC in 90% of patients within 12 weeks. However, Mavyret is quicker and cheaper than pre-existing treatments, giving doctors and insurers more choices for treatment.
Despite the pill’s efficacy, Mavyret can only treat HCV in certain patients, particularly those with or without mild cirrhosis, moderate to severe kidney disease or those who are on dialysis (a medical process for purifying the blood when the kidneys aren’t fully functional).
What happens now with the FDA’s newly approved hepatitis C medication?
AbbVie says it will now look into getting coverage from Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration, the largest medical insurers in the United States.
Mavyret’s side effects include nausea, headache, fatigue and itchy skin. It can also cause reactivation of the hepatitis B virus in patients who have previously had hepatitis B.
The CDC estimates that 2.7 million to 3.9 million Americans have HCV. While there is a vaccine for Hepatitis A and B, no such vaccine exists for HCV.
Featured image by jarun011 via iStock