Hepatitis C is the No. 1 cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. It's brought on by a virus that you can catch if you come into contact with contaminated blood. You could get it from an unclean tattoo needle, for example. Sometimes, it spreads during sex.
It can be cured. But doing so hasn't always been easy or comfortable. For decades, you needed painful shots of a medicine called interferon and a pill called ribavirin. These drugs didn't target the virus making you sick. Instead, they amped up your immune system, so you'd fight it like you do when you get sick with the flu.
But the treatment didn't always remove the virus from the body. Cure rates hovered around 50%. And, people who stuck with the year-long treatment -- not all did -- had to live with chemo-like side effects.
These days there's a revolution underway in hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment. More and more people are being quickly cured by simply taking a pill, at home, for just a few weeks. Several injection-free options have been approved since 2014, and that list is growing fast.
Here's a closer look at some of the breakthrough drugs and a peek at those on the horizon.
There's no one-size-fits-all option. There are many different types, or "genotypes," of hepatitis C. Type 1 is the most common. This is important to understand when you talk to your doctor. Not all meds work on all types. Which medicine is best for you also depends on how much liver scarring (cirrhosis) you have.
Your doctor might refer to the new drugs as direct-acting antivirals. They zoom in on the virus that’s making you sick. Each drug works in a slightly different way. But, in general, the medicine interferes with proteins in your body that the virus needs to grow or spread.
Most of the time, the new medicines remove all traces of the virus from your blood within 12 weeks. This is called "virus clearance," and it’s what doctors look for to determine if you’re cured. How long you need treatment can vary. It may range from 8 to 24 weeks.