Hepatitis C study seeks isle volunteers
Researchers will test a new drug that stays in one's body longer
Isle residents with hepatitis C have an opportunity to participate in a clinical research trial for a drug to be taken every two weeks instead of weekly.
Dr. Alan Tice, infectious disease specialist, said 15 patients have signed up, and he is seeking more. Interested people are asked to call him as soon as possible at 373-3488 because the trial has been opened internationally, he said.
Only 200 slots are left out of 1,500 planned for the study, he said. Patients must meet certain criteria for the trial, done under U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight. The tests and drugs are worth about $50,000 a year, Tice said.
The study will investigate a new form of interferon, which must be taken with ribavirin pills. It might have the same side effects as other forms of interferon, such as anemia and depression, so patients will be closely followed, Tice said.
The new formula stays in the body longer, but the patient must be treated for a year, he said.
A part-time University of Hawaii faculty member with his own practice, Tice is most interested in hepatitis and Staphylococcus aureus as two significant health problems in Hawaii. He represented the Infectious Disease Society of America at a recent American Medical Association meeting.
"Hepatitis is something that has been ignored in many respects," he said, "because hepatitis C often affects primarily people who used drugs in the past, people who don't have money, who often have adjustment problems and limited medical resources."
A number of people became infected with the virus through transfusions before 1992, he said.
"It's a sneaky agent," Tice said, explaining hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, liver scar tissue or liver cancer at a rate of 1 percent or 2 percent a year.
People do not realize for decades that they have the chronic blood-borne infection because in the first years they are not sick, he said.
Many people who used drugs in the '60s and '70s thought they would be safe, Tice said. "Now we have the highest rate of liver cancer per capita in the country. The tip of the iceberg is coming to the surface, and they're coming down with these things they didn't know they had for 20 to 30 years."
About 22,000 isle residents are infected with hepatitis C, according to the Hepatitis Prevention, Education, Treatment and Support Network of Hawaii.
"The majority of people with hepatitis C probably don't realize they have it," he said.
"It's a difficult thing to get people to admit they used drugs. ... A lot of people don't want to know."