Hepatitis C is the No. 1 cause of liver cancer and liver transplants. It's brought on by a virus 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's curable. But curing it 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 that made you sick. Instead, they amped up your immune system so you'd fight it the way you do when you get the flu.
But the treatment didn't always get the virus out of your body. Cure rates hovered around 50%. And people who stuck with the yearlong treatment -- not all did -- had to live with chemo-like side effects.
These days, more and more people can get rid of the virus by simply taking a pill, at home, for just a few weeks. There are several ways to do it without having to get shots.
Here's a closer look at some of the drugs and a peek at those on the horizon.
How They Work
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 call these new drugs 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 that help the virus grow or spread.
Most of the time, these meds remove all traces of the virus from your blood within 12 weeks. This is called sustained virologic response (SVR), and it’s what doctors look for to tell if you’re cured. How long you'll need treatment can vary. It may range from 8 to 24 weeks.