HL20: Douglas Dieterich, MD—Winning a Grudge Match With Hepatitis C

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , December 13, 2012

A lot of medical professionals avoided hepatitis C patients back then, he says, thanks to the ease of which the disease could potentially be passed along. Dieterich not only worked hard on helping patients such as himself, but he also was often one of the few physicians who would work with AIDS patients when that disease was new and not well-understood.

"When they asked for volunteers to take care of these people, only the naïve or deeply committed remained," he says. "But I did feel a duty. It was a time of great uncertainty about the disease and how it was spread and many were refusing to take care of people with this or HIV, which I really thought was unethical."

Dieterich has spent most of his time in research on clinical trials of drugs aimed at hepatitis C, which has led to better treatments—all have some level of personal customization. Dieterich himself was treated twice with drug regimens for the disease, which he says cured him the second time. New drugs are in the pipeline, and are desperately needed, he says, adding that up to 50,000 people per year will likely die in the United States from hepatitis C by 2020 "if we don't intervene." At this point, even though cures are possible and new and better drugs are still being developed, the likely deaths will occur largely because half of those with the disease don't even know they have it.

"It's a really good time to have this, but lots of people don't know they have it," he quips.

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