Curing hepatitis C

An estimated 2.4 million Americans had chronic hepatitis C in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If left untreated, this chronic medical condition can cause life-threatening damage to your liver.

Ten years ago, there were few treatment options available for hepatitis C. But thanks to new generations of antiviral medications, most people can be cured of this illness.

Read on to learn how new treatment approaches have affected the cure rate for hepatitis C.

In the past, most people with hepatitis C were treated with a combination of pegylated interferon and ribavirin. This interferon therapy had a cure rate of only 40 to 50 percent, reports Jeffrey S. Murray, MD, an infectious disease specialist with the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

In recent years, newer antiviral treatment approaches have been developed. These approaches have a cure rate of more than 90 percent. They include the following combinations of antiviral drugs:

  • daclatasvir (Daklinza)
  • sofosbuvir (Sovaldi)
  • sofosbuvir/velpatasvir (Epclusa)
  • sofosbuvir/velpatasvir/voxilaprevir (Vosevi)
  • elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier)
  • glecaprevir/pibrentasvir (Mavyret)
  • ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni)
  • ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir (Technivie)
  • ombitasvir/paritaprevir/ritonavir and dasabuvir (Viekira Pak)
  • simeprevir (Olysio)

To learn about the potential benefits and risks of each approach, talk to your doctor. Some treatment approaches might be more promising than others, depending on the virus strain that’s affecting you, the condition of your liver, and your overall health.

If your first course of prescribed treatment doesn’t cure hepatitis C, your doctor will likely prescribe another course of treatment with different medications.

Acute hepatitis C develops within the first six months of someone contracting the virus. It rarely causes severe symptoms. Many people don’t even realize they have it.

In some cases, acute hepatitis C resolves on its own without treatment. But in 75 to 85 percent of cases, it develops into chronic hepatitis C, according to the CDC.

Generally, if you have acute hepatitis C, your doctor will monitor your condition but won’t offer any specific treatment. If chronic hepatitis C develops, your doctor will prescribe medication to treat it. The cure rates discussed above are for chronic hepatitis C.

If you’ve been diagnosed with chronic hepatitis C, your doctor will order blood tests to learn which subtype of virus is causing the infection.

There are six main genotypes of hepatitis C. These genotypes differ from one another at a genetic level. Some genotypes of the virus are more resistant to certain types of medication, compared to others. The virus can also mutate in ways that make it more resistant to treatment.

Your recommended treatment plan will depend in part on the specific strain of hepatitis C that’s causing your condition. Your doctor can explain how it might affect your treatment options and long-term outlook.

If you’re treated for hepatitis C, your doctor will order blood tests during and after your treatment to learn how the medication has affected you.

If the virus is no longer detectable in your blood 12 weeks after your last dose of antiviral medication, you will be considered cured of hepatitis C. This is also known as a sustained virologic response (SVR). About 99 percent of people who achieve SVR remain free of hepatitis C for the rest of their lives.

Antiviral treatment can clear the hepatitis C virus from your body. This will stop the virus from causing more damage to your liver. But it won’t reverse any liver damage that you’ve already experienced.

If you’ve developed liver scarring from hepatitis C, ask your doctor how you can manage it. They may encourage you to undergo regular ultrasound exams or other tests to monitor the health of your liver, even after the infection has been cured.

If needed, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes, medications, or other treatments to help address symptoms or complications of liver damage. In some cases, you might be a candidate for liver transplantation.

Most people with chronic hepatitis C can be cured of the infection. If your first course of treatment is unsuccessful, your doctor may prescribe another course of treatment with different medications.

Although antiviral medications can cure the infection, they won’t reverse any damage that hepatitis might have caused your liver. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your condition, treatment options, and long-term outlook.