Hepatitis C is curable in more than 50 percent of patients. There are many factors which may influence the likelihood of responding to treatment. Some of these include genotype (strain) of the virus, the viral load, body weight, extent of scarring of the liver, gender and age.
There are six different "strains" or genotypes of the virus. The length of treatment is determined by genotype and response to therapy. Genotype 1 is the most common in the United States. It is also one of the most difficult to treat.
The standard of care for treatment of chronic hepatitis C is Pegylated Interferon injections once a week combined with daily Ribavirin pills. Interferon boosts the immune system to attack liver cells infected with hepatitis C virus and inhibits viral replication. Ribavirin has a broad-spectrum of antiviral activity and inhibits replication and infectivity of the virus.
There can be many side effects associated with interferon, some of which include flu-like symptoms, nausea, depression, injection site reactions and lowering of certain blood counts. Ribavirin can cause anemia, fatigue, headache and skin rash. Despite a multitude of possible side effects, most patients are able to tolerate and complete the treatment. Expert treatment centers are skilled in strategies to minimize these side effects to allow patients to continue therapy.
There are many new and exciting therapies being developed for hepatitis C. This is a rapidly evolving field. There are now options for those who have failed standard therapies.
Currently there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. However, there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of becoming infected.
- If you inject drugs, never share needles or other instruments. Find out if your community has a needle exchange program.
- Reduce the number of sex partners you have and practice safe sex by using a latex condom correctly and with every sexual encounter
- Wear protective gloves and clothing if you are a healthcare worker and work with blood, needles or other potentially contaminated objects
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis B
- Check to make sure that practitioners who do your ear piercing, body piercing or tattoos use sterilized instruments
- Razors and toiletry items should not be shared with infected individuals