Hepatitis C: Treatment and managing
Hepatitis C may not always be treated after it is first diagnosed, but monitored to see if the person's immune system fights off the virus.
If the body isn't fighting the hepatitis C infection after 3 months, medicine may be prescribed.
Treatment for hepatitis C is usually given with a combination of two medications: an interferon injection and ribavirin capsules or tablets.
Pegylated interferon is given as an injection to stimulate the immune system to attack the virus.
Ribavirin capsules or tablets are antiviral drugs to help stop hepatitis C spreading in the body.
Treatment usually lasts six or 12 months, with testing to see how effective it has been.
Cure rates depend on the type, or more accurately genotype, of hepatitis C infection.
Genotype 1 is the hardest treat with around a 50% cure rate for combination therapy.
With other genotypes, cure rates can be around 75–80%.
Even if a cure isn’t possible, treatment may still slow down the progression of liver damage.
Early treatment is more effective than treatment after someone has been infected for some time.
Interferon and ribavirin are not suitable for pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions.
If treatment is successful at clearing the hepatitis C virus from a person's system, they do not then have any immunity against being re-infected.
Boceprevir and telaprevir are newer drugs called protease inhibitors that the NHS uses for genotype 1 hepatitis C treatment in some cases. These block the effects of enzymes that the virus uses to reproduce.
Sofosbuvir is another new treatment option for some people with chronic hepatitis C. Sofosbuvir is an antiviral drug taken as a tablet to prevent the hepatitis C virus replicating in infected cells.
Side effects of combination treatment
Side effects of combination treatment include:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Temporary hair loss
- Low blood counts
- Trouble thinking
Can I pass hepatitis C to my baby?
The risk of a pregnant woman passing hepatitis C to her baby is about one in 20, according to the NHS.
There is no evidence that normal breast-feeding poses a risk. However, if a mother's nipples are cracked or bleeding, her child could become infected from her blood.
Managing hepatitis C: Avoid illness
Other viruses that damage the liver, such as hepatitis A or B, are especially dangerous to people with hepatitis C. Your doctor may recommend that you get vaccinated to protect you from these viruses, especially for foreign travel.
Other illnesses can also cause special problems for people with hepatitis C. HIV can weaken the immune system and allow hepatitis C to progress quickly.
Get plenty of sleep
People with hepatitis C often have difficulty sleeping, especially during treatment.
Some experts believe some of the vague symptoms of hepatitis C, such as fatigue, are also symptoms of not getting enough sleep. Since the two conditions go hand in hand, they can compound your symptoms.
There's no special cure for insomnia caused by hepatitis C or its treatment.