Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) have no symptoms. In fact, most people don't know they have the hepatitis C infection until liver damage shows up, decades later, during routine medical tests.
Hepatitis C is one of several hepatitis viruses and is generally considered to be among the most serious of these viruses. Hepatitis C is passed through contact with contaminated blood — most commonly through needles shared during illegal drug use.
Although medications to treat hepatitis C have been available for decades and have gradually improved with time, they have had serious side effects and required that a person be treated from 24 to 72 weeks.
Side effects included depression, flu-like symptoms, and loss of healthy red or white blood cells (anemia or neutropenia). Therefore many people discontinued treatment.
Investigators reported encouraging findings at the International Liver Congress in Vienna this month from three phase 3 clinical trials of a new drug combination, grazoprevir and elbasvir, to treat people with chronic hepatitis C infection. Cure rates of from 92 percent to 99 percent were reported, depending on the history of the patient’s hepatitis C infection.
Importantly, patients with and without cirrhosis — a late stage of liver disease caused by the virus — participated in the trials of the new drug and saw positive results. The drug combination was very effective for patients who had failed prior treatments with other hepatitis C medications. Patients were randomly assigned to 12 or 16 weeks of new drug treatment, with or without ribavirin.
Adding ribavirin improved cure rates slightly, to 94 percent for 12 weeks, and up to 97 percent for 16 weeks of treatment.
Protect yourself from hepatitis C infection by taking the following precautions:
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