About the series:
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. 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 us.
This series looks at this unique moment in time for hepatitis C, a chronic infection that primarily infects baby boomers, with especially high rates among the incarcerated, veterans, and injection drug users. It's been called the "silent killer," because symptoms usually don't emerge until decades after a person has been infected. By then, the liver may be badly scarred. Hep C is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer, and can be deadly if untreated.
The good news is that we can cure hepatitis C. But for a hefty price tag: $84 - $94,000 dollars for a full course of treatment with drugs like Sovaldi and Harvoni. So who pays? For many of the millions of infected Americans, we'll all pay, through programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and prison health care systems.
Head inside a medium security prison clinic to meet inmates who are hoping for a second chance, and a cure. Hop out of the mobile needle exchange van in a poor New England town, where outreach workers are trying to keep injection drug users safe, and get them tested for hepatitis C. Hear the stories of people who have been living with chronic hepatitis C for decades, waiting for a cure. And meet the doctors, epidemiologists, and scientists who are battling the disease, and trying to understand it.
This series was produced by Kristin Gourlay, and edited by Catherine Welch, as a project for TheCalifornia Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.