Can Hepatitis C Be Cured?
More than 2 million people in the United States have hepatitis C (HCV). HCV can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute infection lasts less than 6 months. New research shows that as many as half of those with acute HCV will fight off the virus on their own, without treatment.1-3 While HCV may last for years, it can be cured with treatment.1-3
Newer versus older treatments
In the past, people with HCV were treated with drugs called ribavirin and interferon. These drugs were very hard on the body. They caused many side effects and were hard to tolerate. The drugs also needed to be taken for a long time, sometimes up to a year at a time. Taken together, this made it hard for people to continue taking the drugs long enough to be cured.4
These drugs also did not have the highest cure rate. It was possible for a person to go through a full treatment course and still have HCV. Some people even went through multiple rounds of treatment.4
The good news is, treatment options have greatly improved in recent years. New direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) are now available. These drugs have very high cure rates and work more quickly. Many have cure rates higher than 90 percent, with some close to 100 percent.1-4
DAAs only need to be taken for a few weeks at a time. A common treatment course is 6 to 12 weeks. DAAs also cause fewer side effects.1-4
Goals of HCV treatment
To be considered cured, a person needs to have no detectable amounts of HCV in their blood several months after treatment. This is called achieving a sustained virologic response (SVR). This is usually measured 12 weeks after completing treatment.1-2
If a person achieves SVR, they are cured of that specific HCV infection. However, it is possible to be re-infected with HCV again if the person is exposed to the virus later.1-2
Deciding on treatment
Most doctors agree that as many people with a chronic HCV infection as possible be treated with DAAs.1-4
If a person has acute HCV, their doctor may recommend they wait to be treated. This gives their body time to fight the virus on its own. If they progress to chronic infection, it may be time to treat. Treating HCV early can prevent years of liver damage and other severe health complications.1-4
DAAs are not given to pregnant women. However, many children may be treated with DAAs. Your doctor may choose a specific DAA for you based on several factors. These include:1,2,5
- Your viral load (amount of active virus in the blood)
- Genotype or strain of the virus you have (many new drugs can treat all types of the virus)
- Status of liver scarring (fibrosis or cirrhosis)
- If you have been treated for HCV before
- If you have other medical conditions
Your doctor can talk with you about the benefits and risks of treating your HCV. They can also advise you on what side effects to expect and how long you should be treated.
DAAs can be expensive. Doctors' offices often have resources to help you afford treatment.
The only way to know you have HCV and start treatment is to get tested. Talk with your doctor about your risk and if testing is right for you.