Hep C Treatment Decreases Mortality and Liver Disease

Last updated: October 2022

People with long-term hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections have better treatment options today than in past decades. Currently, more than 95 percent of people with HCV can be cured.1,2

The risks for liver-related disease and death decline sharply with treatment. But even though effective HCV medicines are more available now, access to treatment is still uneven. That means that many more people living with HCV could be helped.3,4

Treatment lowers the risk of death and liver disease.

New research shows the importance of lowering barriers to receiving HCV treatment. In a 2022 study, historically underserved groups in Baltimore, Maryland, with chronic HCV infections who received treatment saw greatly lowered instances of liver disease. Their risk of death was also cut nearly in half.3,4

A big source of new HCV infections in high-income countries like the United States is injectable drug use. For this reason, the new study focused on people who inject drugs.2,4
What is different now?

In the past, HCV treatments included weekly injections or oral drugs taken up to 6 months. Cure rates hovered around 20 to 40 percent. Major side effects and other health issues made it impossible for some people to take these drugs.1,2

The latest treatments include daily oral medicine for 2 to 3 months with fewer side effects.2,5

Another contrast between older and newer medicines is what they target. The first generation of therapies for HCV focused on proteins the body makes in response to viral infections (interferons). These proteins tell nearby cells to activate their antiviral responses. Interferon therapies are a general approach to viral infection, but they are not specific to HCV.1

Newer drugs focus on the hepatitis C virus itself. These drugs are called direct-acting antivirals. They stop the virus from making copies of itself and causing breakthrough infections. Today’s treatments also include drugs that work against many different types of HCV.1,6

Barriers to treatment

Despite these recent advances, studies show that almost half of people diagnosed with HCV do not get treated. Some people may not realize how much HCV can affect their health. Other people experience barriers to treatment after they are diagnosed with HCV.4,7

These barriers to treatment may include:7

  • Unreliable transportation
  • Unstable housing
  • Substance use
  • Lack of health insurance
  • Fear of stigma
  • Relationship with their doctor
  • Prior experiences of HCV disease and treatment

Because HCV infections can have no symptoms for years or decades, some people may not access care because they do not know they are infected. Or they may know they are infected but not know the risks of not receiving treatment.7,8

Why you should get screened for HCV

Experts recommend that everyone between the ages of 17 and 79 be screened for HCV. People born between 1945 and 1965 are most at risk. They are five times more likely to be infected than people born earlier or later.5

If you are diagnosed with HCV, learn about your treatment options. Ask your doctor how to access treatment. You can also look online for support groups or nonprofit organizations dedicated to HCV.9

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The HepatitisC.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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