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People who received kidneys from donors infected with hepatitis C did not become ill with the virus, thanks to treatment with newer drugs that can cure the disease, a small study reports.

Ten patients not previously infected with hepatitis C took doses of powerful antiviral medications before and after receiving the transplants. None of the patients developed chronic infections, researchers report online March 6 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The finding could help make more kidneys available for transplants.

“If this increases access to transplantation, then this is a great benefit,” says Jay Fishman, a transplant infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

As of January 2016, more than 100,000 people in the United States were awaiting transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. In many areas, patients can linger on waiting lists for more than five years. In 2014, there were about 17,000 kidney transplants in the country, and nearly 4,800 people died while waiting.

Traditionally, organs from donors with hepatitis C were offered to recipients already infected with the disease, because the virus could be transmitted during a transplant. And one of the main drugs previously used to treat the infectious liver disease was not very effective and had many side effects, including the possibility of transplant rejection. But in the last several years, more effective drugs, called direct-acting antivirals, have been approved for use. These drugs cure hepatitis C in more than 95 percent of patients.

At the same time, more hepatitis C-positive organs have become available. The increase is likely due to rising numbers of overdose deaths from opioids (SN: 6/10/17, p. 22), says Christine Durand, a transplant infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

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