New Treatments Provide Hope for Hepatitis C
By Nyan Latt, MD, Transplant Hepatologist, Virtua Center for Liver Disease
Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes 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 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?
Anyone can get hepatitis C. A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) each accounted for 36% of new cases.
That’s why the CDC now recommends everyone 18 and older get tested for hepatitis C at least once. Talk to your doctor about the test.
- Had a blood transfusion before 1992
- Shared razors, toothbrushes, injection drug needles, or straws for snorting drugs 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
If you are at higher risk, your doctor may suggest that you get tested more often.
Hepatitis C is a "silent" disease, meaning you can go years before symptoms appear. Symptoms may include fatigue, fever, nausea or poor appetite, muscle and joint pain, and yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
If tests confirm you have hepatitis C, your health care provider will prescribe medication.
The newest drugs are called direct-acting antivirals. They target the virus and the proteins it uses to grow and spread. The drugs are 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)
- Glecaprevir and pibrentasvir (Mavyret)
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. With these organs available, people can shorten their time on the transplant wait list.
Keeping You and Your Liver Going Strong
Virtua's Advanced Transplant & Organ Health program provides comprehensive care for all types of liver disease, including hepatitis C, fatty liver disease, liver cancer, and liver failure. To schedule an appointment at one of our five convenient locations, call 856-796-9340.
Updated May 18, 2022