At The Crossroads: Hepatitis C On The Rise And The Fight To Stop It

Feb 1, 2015

Credit Jake Harper / RIPR

A multimedia series about one of the greatest public health challenges of a generation

Hepatitis C infects an estimated five million Americans, though most of them don’t know it. But deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise in baby boomers. And throughout New England, new infections are creeping up among a younger generation of injection drug users.

Less than a year ago, their only options for treatment were complicated regimens of injections that didn’t always lead to a cure. But brand new drugs could change everything. That is, if the cost doesn’t break state budgets.

In her multimedia series "At the Crossroads: The Rise of Hepatitis C and the Fight to Stop It," Rhode Island Public Radio health care reporter Kristin Gourlay examines this unique moment in time through the eyes of patients, doctors, researchers, policymakers, and more.

Following are the eight audio stories in this series. Complete coverage, including blog posts and a recording of a live public forum about the issue, can be found here

At the Crossroads, Part 1: A Tale of Two Epidemics (Air date: 10/21/14)

Hepatitis C infects an estimated five million Americans, though most of them don’t know it, because it takes years for symptoms to emerge. Now, deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise in baby boomers. And throughout New England, new infections are creeping up among a younger generation. Less than a year ago, their only options for treatment were complicated regimens of injections that didn’t always work. But brand new drugs could change everything. That is, if the cost doesn’t break the bank.  

At the Crossroads, Part 2: Finding Infections Before It's Too Late (Air date: 11/3/14)

Credit Jake Harper / RIPR

It takes about 20 years for most people to notice any symptoms from hepatitis C, and it was about that long ago most people got infected. Now doctors in Rhode Island and throughout the country are noticing a wave of patients with the kind of advanced liver disease hepatitis C can cause.                                                                    

As part of our series “At the Crossroads: Hepatitis C On The Rise And The Fight To Stop It,” we check in on the race to find infections before it’s too late.

At the Crossroads, Part 3: As Old Hep C Treatment Fades, New Drugs Stoke Hope (air date 11/12/14)

In just a few weeks, another pharmaceutical company will likely win FDA approval for a new drug to cure hepatitis C. That makes three breakthrough medications hitting the market in less than a year. It’s big news for the estimated twenty thousand Rhode Islanders – and many more throughout New England -  living with chronic hepatitis C. Because some have been waiting decades for a cure.

Next in our series “At The Crossroads: The Rise of Hepatitis C and the Fight to Stop it,” why one man waited so long for treatment.

At the Crossroads, Part 4: New Hep C Treatments Promise a Cure, For a Big Price (air date 11/20/14)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. Since then, people with hepatitis C have had limited – and not very effective – options for treatment. Until now. Revolutionary new treatments have hit the market in just the last few months. But they’re so expensive health insurers are balking at the price.

Credit Jake Harper / RIPR

Part four of our series “At the Crossroads: The Rise of Hepatitis C and the Fight to Stop it” looks at the high cost of these new treatments and who’s paying for them.

At the Crossroads, Part 5: (air date 11/26/14)

What’s the price of a human life? Many of us would say each life is priceless. But health economists sometimes have a number in mind. Want to know what that number is?

In this part of our series “At the Crossroads: The Rise of Hepatitis C and The Fight To Stop It,” we'll tell you that - and more. We go beyond the high price of new hepatitis C drugs  to ask: how much is too much? And what the heck is a "quality adjusted life year" anyway?

At the Crossroads, Part 6: Veterans Harder Hit By Hepatitis C (air date: 12/5/14)

In our ongoing series about hepatitis C, we look now at one of the hardest hit populations: veterans. Hep C is three times more prevalent among vets than in the general population. The Veterans Health Administration has the country’s largest hepatitis C screening and treatment program in the country. But that program is struggling to pay for new treatments – and the rising number of veterans who need them.

At the Crossroads, Part 7: Behind Bars, Hep C Takes A Toll On Inmates, And Prison Budgets (air date: 12/18/14)

At the medium security prison in Cranston, Rhode Island
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Like others across the nation, Rhode Island’s prisons are grappling with a dilemma. Hundreds of inmates have hepatitis C. New drugs can cure it. But they’re so expensive the department of corrections can’t afford them for every inmate who’s sick.

In this next part of our series “At the Crossroads,” a look at how prison officials decide who gets treated first.

At the Crossroads, Part 8: Fueled By Opioid Abuse, New Hep C Infections Are On The Rise (air date: 1/8/15)

In 2014, hundreds of Rhode Islanders died from accidental drug overdoses.  Thousands more remain addicted to prescription painkillers and heroin. For those who inject the drugs, there’s another risk: hepatitis C.

In the final story in our series “At the Crossroads,” we meet a team of outreach workers determined to find new infections before it’s too late.

A simple finger prick and a drop of blood is all it takes to complete the rapid hep c screening test. It detects hepatitis C antibodies. Their presence in the blood means you've been exposed to the virus. A second confirmatory test is required to determine whether you've developed the chronic infection.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

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Support for this series came from the California Health Journalism Endowment, a program of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Reported and Produced by: Kristin Espeland Gourlay
Edited by: Catherine Welch