Big changes are under way in the treatment of hepatitis C. New medicines have fewer side effects, and they raise your odds of beating the disease.
Three new drugs are quickly becoming the standard for treating hepatitis C:
Before the three new drugs became available, the typical treatment was a combination of interferon and ribavirin with two other drugs that fight the hep C virus:
Telaprevir and boceprevir were introduced in 2011. The drugs interfere with the ability of the hep C virus to grow and multiply in your body, says Jonathan M. Fenkel, MD, director of the Jefferson Hepatitis C Center.
Taking one of these two medications along with interferon and ribavirin increased cure rates for people with type 1 hepatitis C (the most common form in the U.S.) from less than 50% to between 68% and 75%.
It also shortened treatment time for many people. Those who had the virus disappear from their blood quickly enough could stop taking medications after 24 weeks.
But the combination treatment could lead to some serious side effects from interferon and ribavirin, such as:
Interferon can also lower your white blood cell count, weakening your ability to fight infection.
The 'New' Standard
Simeprevir and sofosbuvir are now starting to replace boceprevir and telaprevir as the combination "partners" with interferon and ribavirin.
Sofosbuvir can also be used without interferon for some types of the disease.
Simeprevir and sofosbuvir have fewer and milder side effects than boceprevir and telaprevir. And they can wipe out the hep C virus in a much shorter period of time.
With these new treatments, and more on the horizon, experts say it's more important than ever to follow new recommendations to get checked for hepatitis C. In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that all adults born between 1945 and 1965 get a one-time screening test.
"More than two-thirds of the people in the U.S. who have hepatitis C are baby boomers, and most of them don't know they're infected," Fenkel says. "Now that we have more effective therapies, we can treat patients much more easily before there's a lot of damage done to the liver."