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    Hepatitis 'C' Cures Now Common

    Existing Treatments Eradicate Hepatitis C Virus
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    May 21, 2007 -- A new report shows that patients with hepatitis C infection can not only be successfully treated by the best available drug therapies, but they also can be cured.

    Up to seven years after treatment, 99% of close to 1,000 successfully treated patients showed no evidence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.

    Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is transmitted from contact with infected blood. HCV infection is the leading cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver transplants in the United States. Roughly 4 million Americans are infected, but only about a quarter of them know they have the virus, hepatitis treatment expert John Vierling, MD, tells WebMD.

    “We have to start identifying infected people earlier so they can be treated earlier,” he says. “It is true that about half of patients can be cured with the treatments available now.”

    ‘Virus Won’t Come Back’

    Those treatments include a long-acting version of the drug interferon, known as pegylated interferon, and the antiviral drug ribavirin.

    The long-term follow-up study included 997 patients who achieved sustained virologic responses with pegylated interferon with or without ribavirin, meaning they had no evidence of the virus in their blood six months after treatment.

    All but eight of the patients were still free of the virus an average of four years after treatment. Some patients were followed for as long as seven years.

    Two of the eight patients showed evidence of a second HCV infection, and it was not clear if the remaining five relapsed or were reinfected.

    Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center chief of hepatology Mitchell Shiffman, MD, presented the follow-up data Monday in Washington at Digestive Disease Week, an annual meeting of liver and gastric disease specialists from around the world.

    “When we achieve sustained virologic responses, less than 1% of patients will get the virus back,” he tells WebMD. “We know the virus will not come back in a year or two or three. These patients are cured.”

    Not All Respond

    But between 45% and 50% of patients treated in the United States do not respond to treatment or have incomplete responses, according to Shiffman.

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