Professor Graham Foster, professor of hepatology at Queen Mary’s University of London, raised the prospect of eradicating the virus at the City Health 2012 conference in London.
‘This is the moment when we can actually look Hepatitis C in the eye and eliminate it,' he said. 'I mean "eliminate it" as in take it off the planet.'
Professor Foster said computer simulations showed that successfully treating relatively small numbers of patients could eradicate the virus from major cities. Small reductions in the number of drug users infected with hepatitis C would lead to dramatic reductions in the rate at which the virus is transmitted, he said.
‘The bottom line is that you don’t need to treat very many,’ he said. ‘Ten per 1,000 or 40 per 1,000 will get rid of this virus in most populations. Even in the worse-case scenario, 100 patients per 1,000 is going to get rid of this virus in our lifetime.’
Professor Foster said improved treatments would soon be available making successful treatment easier to achieve. ‘We may be looking, in the next 18 months to two years at combination therapy, with only tablets for three months, with massive cure rates,’ he said.
‘Just think how that changes the dynamic of hepatitis C eradication,' he added. 'All you have to do is to persuade injecting drug users to take pills for three months, one pill a day with directly observed therapy, and the virus disappears.’
Professor Foster said GPs and other healthcare workers had managed to identify most of the injecting drug users who had hepatitis C. Treatment services now needed to improve so that they were well advertised and easily accessible to patients.
‘We can pick these people up, give them treatment, and cure it,’ he said. ‘What do we need to do? Well, we just need to get on and deliver it. This is going to require considerable political support.’
He added: ‘The alternative is that we let people die, and they’re going to die expensive, unpleasant deaths, from all the complications of liver failure.… Homeless people with hepatitis C are not going to go away. They either going to die or they’re going to get treated.’