Treatment for hepatitis C has changed for the better in the past few years. Older treatments relying heavily on interferon and ribavirin could produce difficult side effects that forced some people to stop treatment. Newer treatments may still use interferon and ribavirin, but combined with other drugs the treatments are better tolerated overall. Cure rates can be over 90%. The new treatments are very expensive so not everyone with hep C will qualify for coverage through PharmaCare or private insurance. A person must have some liver disease in order to qualify for hep C treatment.
Hepatitis C is treated with a combination of medications to stop the virus from multiplying and further damaging the liver. There are different genotypes (strains) of hepatitis C that will respond to different combinations. Before starting treatment your doctor will find out what type you have so they can prescribe the correct combination for your genotype.
Hep C treatment can take as little as 8 weeks or up to 24 weeks, depending on a number of things. Your overall health, extent of liver disease, hep C genotype, HIV status, and other factors will determine how long you may need to be on treatment.
Treatment for hepatitis C is evolving quickly. Two great sources for up to date treatment information are the Pacific Hepatitis C Network’s Treatment Information Project (excellent plain language explanations of treatments and how they’re used, and a drug approval pipeline graphic) and Hepatitis Education Canada, which provides information on new drugs as they are approved for use.
Cure is possible… but so is reinfection
The goal of treatment is to eliminate the virus in your system and keep it that way. After you’ve completed treatment, you’ll be asked to do a blood test to measure the level of hep C virus in your blood (viral load). Ideally, it’s undetectable. Treatment is successful when the virus is undetectable when you finish treatment and 6 months after treatment.
Beating hep C once doesn’t mean you won’t get it again. If you’re injecting or inhaling drugs, use your own equipment only and never share. If your sex partners might have hep C, have safe sex.
For more in-depth information on hep C diagnosis, treatment and care concerns: Pacific Hepatitis C Network.