By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- New hope for Vietnam veterans who have higher rates of Hepatitis C, and millions of others who suffer from the illness. Joe Benko, at the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was feeling lucky as he looked around. He said, "It's sad, you see all the names here that you think about what they did to put down their lives to give us freedom…It's kinda moving." Joe received an honorable discharge before being sent to Vietnam. Years later, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. It's been called a silent epidemic because people don't know they have it - until their blood is tested.
Vietnam vets have higher rates of Hepatitis C. It's spread by blood from transfusions or needles. Joe says he could have been infected during basic training when soldiers were lined up for vaccinations. Joe says, "I don't know if they had a cleansing process from one soldier to the next."
Hepatitis C causes liver damage. Joe was told his time was running out when he decided to test a drug called Harvoni made by Gilead Science. The drug, recently approved by the FDA, is a quicker, easier treatment - with an impressive cure rate. Dr. Howard Freilich says, "It basically allows the body to eradicate the infection. It represents a marked step forward literally a game-changer in our treatment of this serious illness."
Joe says, "100 percent cured, and I feel great, I really do." Joe says after 12 weeks taking the pill, he had more energy. He says, "It's a new lease on life. I have a younger wife and I actually can run circles around her."
The drug costs over a thousand dollars a pill. That's $94,000 for a 12-week course, It's unclear if it will be covered by insurance. The maker says the price is justified with the long term savings that come from curing Hepatitis, but they do have a patient assistance program.
Patient Assistance Program: www.mysupportpath.com
for more features.