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New Treatments Provide Hope for Hepatitis C

By Nyan Latt, MD, Transplant Hepatologist, Virtua Center for Liver Disease

Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver transplantation and serious liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Spread through blood-to-blood transmission with an infected person, the hepatitis C virus damages the liver for years with few, if any, noticeable symptoms. The good news is, hepatitis C is now curable.

We’ve come a long way since the first treatment for hep C was approved 20 years ago. These early therapies, such as interferon and ribavirin, required injections for nearly a year, and in the end had low cure rates and produced flu-like side effects. Today, we can rid the body of the virus by taking a pill for a few weeks.

Could I Have Hep C?

While anyone can get hepatitis C, baby boomers—those born between 1945 and 1965—account for three of every four people who have it.

You are at higher risk for hepatitis C if you:

  • Had a blood transfusion before 1992
  • Shared razors, toothbrushes, or injection drug needles with an infected person
  • Had sex with an infected person
  • Are a health care worker
  • Were born to an infected mother
  • Got a tattoo or body piercing at an unlicensed facility

Symptoms of hepatitis C, if they do occur, include fatigue, fever, nausea or poor appetite, muscle and joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 18 and older get tested for hepatitis C at least once. Talk to your doctor about the test.

New Treatments
If tests confirm you have hepatitis C, your health care provider will prescribe medication.

The medication you receive will depend on the strain of hep C you have (there are at least seven distinct genotypes and many more subtypes), as well as the extent of your liver damage.

The newest drugs are called direct-acting antivirals. They target the virus and the proteins it uses to grow and spread. The drugs are often in pill form—rather than injections—and may be used by themselves or in combination with other medications.

These medicines include:

  • Sofosbuvir and velpatasvir (Epclusa)
  • Ledipasvir and sofosbuvir (Harvoni)
  • Glecaprevir and pibrentasvir (Mavyret)
  • Elbasvir and grazoprevir (Zepatier)

Treatment times vary, but these medications can usually remove all traces of the virus from your blood within 12 weeks and with fewer side effects. These therapies, along with others in development, promise an improved quality of life for those with hepatitis C.

The antivirals, along with immunosuppressive drugs, also allow people in need of a liver or kidney/pancreas transplant to safely receive an organ from a hepatitis C-positive donor. People who accept these organs can shorten their time on the wait list and prolong their life.

Keeping You and Your Liver Going Strong
The Virtua Center for Liver Disease provides comprehensive care for all types of liver disease, including hepatitis C, fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and liver failure. Learn more about liver care or call 856-796-9340 for an appointment at one of our five convenient locations.

Updated September 21, 2021

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