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Is a cure for hepatitis C possible?

Hepatitis C is a virus that eventually leads to chronic liver disease for the majority of its victims. However, thanks to extensive research, a 100 percent cure rate for the disease is closer than ever. 

Hepatitis C testing

“The good news about hepatitis C is that there are widely available blood tests that are very simple and relatively inexpensive that would capture the vast majority of patients who have been exposed,” says Ray Rubin, M.D., a transplant hepatologist at Piedmont Transplant Institute.

To test for hepatitis C antibodies in a person’s blood, doctors use a test called ELISA, which stands for Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay. This test indicates if a person has ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, but it doesn’t determine if there is active hepatitis C in the bloodstream. Further testing can detect active hepatitis C.

The history of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C’s existence was suggested in the 1970s, but prior to its discovery in 1989, physicians referred to hepatitis C as “non-A non-B hepatitis.” About 90 percent of what they called non-A non-B hepatitis was actually hepatitis C.

Current hepatitis C treatment options

“There are new drugs out there that have dramatically improved cure rates,” says Dr. Rubin. “A few years ago, we were reluctant to even use the word ‘cure.’ Now we use the word cure very securely.”

In addition to curing hepatitis C, new medications (including interferon-free treatments) have significantly fewer side effects.

Years ago, the only option for treating hepatitis C was conventional interferon.

“We gave patients shots three times a week for six or 12 months and unfortunately there were a lot of side effects and very few cures,” he says. “The most exciting change came over the last few months with the release of new medications that are very specific for hepatitis C, but have even fewer side effects.”

The future of hepatitis C treatment

By the end of 2014, Dr. Rubin expects hepatologists will be able remove interferon completely from hepatitis C treatment regimens.

“Not only will [these new medications] lead to cure rates of about 100 percent, which is unheard of, but also they will have dramatically fewer side effects and need to be taken only for 12 to 24 weeks.”

Learning your hepatitis C status is crucial because the sooner the disease is treated, the better your chances of a cure. 

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