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    Natalie Cole's Hepatitis C: FAQ

    Questions and Answers About Natalie Cole's Hepatitis C and 'Chemotherapy'

    How is hepatitis C treated?

    Hepatitis C is treated with two drugs: long-acting interferon (called pegylated interferon or peginterferon) and ribavirin.

    Pegintereferon "gets the immune system to handle the virus a little more effectively," says Bacon. Ribavirin is an antiviral medicine, "but it doesn't work against hepatitis C alone; it only works in conjunction with interferon."

    New treatments are in the works. "Those new treatments are a class of drugs called protease inhibitors," says Bacon, singling out two protease inhibitors -- telapravir and boceprevir -- as being "far along in development."

    Is Natalie Cole really getting chemotherapy for hepatitis C?

    The chemotherapy that you'd get for cancer isn't used to treat hepatitis C. But Bacon says hepatitis C treatment can have side effects "that are akin to what patients experience when they receive cancer chemotherapy." That includes temporary hair loss.

    The peginterferon-ribavirin combination is "sometimes loosely called chemotherapy," says Bacon. "I don't like to give it that negative connotation, to try to keep things positive for patients. So I call it treatment for their viral infection or antiviral therapy."

    How long does treatment take?

    That depends on the strain, or genotype, of the virus. Those genotypes vary around the world. The most common genotype in the U.S. takes 48 weeks to treat, says Bacon.

    Can hepatitis C be cured?

    The combination of peginterferon and ribavirin cures hepatitis C in 50% to 60% of cases, according to Bacon. He predicts that the protease inhibitors that are being developed will boost the cure rate to 70% to 80%.

    "So often people say, 'Oh, there's no cure; I'm not going to do anything about it.' But there is a cure. You can have the virus eradicated up to 50%-60% of the time," says Bacon.

    What about a hepatitis C vaccine?

    There isn't one. "The virus changes very quickly," making it very hard to create a vaccine, notes Bacon.

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