Two new drugs nearing federal approval could nearly double the chance of curing those with the virus, which destroys the liver. In addition, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are studying whether all adults routinely should be screened for the disease, which kills 12,000 to 15,000 Americans each year.
The CDC is particularly eager for boomers to become more aware of the virus: Of the estimated 3.2 million Americans infected with hepatitis C, two-thirds are boomers in their 50s and 60s.
An Institute of Medicine report last year also found that deaths related to hepatitis C are particularly high among middle-age men.
Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, and the standard two-drug treatment, which is long and difficult, cures only about 40 percent of patients. Recent studies, however, have shown that adding a third new drug can not only cut treatment time in half, but also boost the cure rate to as high as 75 percent.
The new drugs — Vertex Pharmaceuticals' telaprevir and Merck & Co.'s boceprevir — both have been granted a fast-track review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some expect approval to come by this summer.
"We're at the dawn of a new era in hepatitis C treatment," says John W. Ward, M.D., director of the CDC's division of viral hepatitis.
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