Hepatitis C is a disease that causes liver inflammation. Those with acute hepatitis C will notice an immediate onset of symptoms, while it may take years before those with chronic hepatitis C notice any symptoms. In fact, about half of the 2.2 to 3.2 million people in the United States with chronic hepatitis C don’t know they are infected with the virus.
Fortunately, getting tested for hepatitis C is a fairly simple process and new treatments are making it easier to manage the virus.
Hepatitis C Testing
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded their recommendations for hepatitis C testing. The CDC now recommends a one-time test for hepatitis C virus (HCV) for every person born between 1945 and 1965. People born during this timeframe account for about 75 percent of all HCV infections.
A simple blood test will indicate if you have hepatitis C. Ask your doctor about getting tested if any of the following pertains to you:
- you were born between 1945 and 1965
- you’ve injected illegal drugs, even if you injected just once
- you’re a healthcare worker and encountered an accidental needle sticks with HCV-infected blood
- you were born to an HCV-infected women
- you received blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992
- you have HIV (the virus that causes AIDS)
- you have any unexplained signs of liver disease or symptoms of chronic HCV infection
New Treatment Regimens
A number of groundbreaking new medications for hepatitis C have become available within the last few years. These new medicines are rapidly changing the standard treatment approaches for people with hepatitis C.
The standard treatment used to be a combination of two antiviral drugs: pegylated interferon (PEG) and ribavirin.
This original hepatitis C therapy, often called PEG/riba for short, took anywhere from six months to a year to complete and had some severe side effects, including:
The therapy also wasn’t very effective and worked in less than half of people with hepatitis C genotype 1, the most common type of hepatitis C in the United States.
In 2011, the introduction of new drugs called direct-acting antivirals changed the treatment approach. These medicines destroy the virus by stopping it from making more copies of itself in the body.
Direct-acting antivirals have fewer side effects than PEG/riba alone. In many cases, the new medicines have shortened the amount of time needed to rid the body of HCV. They may be used to treat hepatitis C alone or in combination with older therapies depending on the type of hepatitis C.
Harvoni is a single tablet containing two drugs taken once a day for 12 to 24 weeks.
Viekira Pak (a combination of three medicines) requires most people to take four to six pills a day over 12 to 24 weeks. Both drugs have been shown to cure hepatitis C in more than 90 percent of those with genotype 1.
Most people report only mild side effects, like headache and fatigue, with these new drugs.
A number of dietary supplements and herbs claim to promote liver health. But the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says you should be wary of these claims for various reasons:
- No dietary supplement has proven effective to treat hepatitis C or its complications.
- Studies have shown that milk thistle, the most popular herbal supplement taken by people with liver disease, is not effective in people with hepatitis C.
- Colloidal silver, which is sometimes promoted to treat hepatitis C, is not safe. It can cause irreversible side effects and lead to a bluish discoloration of the skin.
Check with your doctor before using any dietary supplement to make sure that there are no known interactions with other medications you may be taking for hepatitis C or other conditions.
Check out our Hepatitis C Topic Center for more helpful information on treatments.