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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, drugs 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.

Newer drugs are also available that may be used individually or in various combinations.

Side effects of combination treatment

Side effects of combination treatment include:

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.

Be careful with medication, drugs and alcohol

Your liver breaks down and filters out substances from your bloodstream. Hepatitis C can reduce your liver's ability to do this. As a result, medications, herbs, drugs and alcohol may stay in your system longer and have a more powerful effect.

For people with hepatitis C, some substances pose the risk of severe liver damage.

Common painkillers and cold remedies with paracetamol can be toxic to people with damaged livers, especially if they are taken with alcohol. Even large doses of vitamins like vitamins A and D can be harmful. Many of the herbal remedies also pose a risk.

If you have hepatitis C, don't naturally assume that over-the-counter medications are safe for you. Never take any medications, supplements, herbal remedies or alternative medicines before talking to your doctor first.

If you're a smoker, you should try to stop. Obviously, people with hepatitis C should not be using illegal drugs but if you are, seek help and join a treatment programme.

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