Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver. Over time, Hep C can cause liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and premature death.
Today, deaths from Hep C are at an all-time high. Treatment can keep the disease from progressing and improve health, but many people infected are still not taking advantage of the opportunity to be treated and cured. It may be that the history of Hep C treatment has biased some people against considering treatment now. Hep C treatment has changed. Here’s how:
Hep C is a unique virus, because unlike many other viruses, Hep C can be cured. There have been medicines available to treat Hep C since 1991. Unfortunately, early treatments had many difficult side effects, lasted more than a year, and did not always work. This is because from 1991 until 2014, Hep C treatment was interferon based.
Interferon is a medication used to treat several illnesses including cancer and multiple sclerosis. It stimulates the body’s own immune system, which can cause flu-like symptoms that can be severe. Interferon treatment usually required additional medications such as ribavirin, which also caused challenging symptoms.
Interferon had to be injected, and the treatment lasted for more than a year in many cases. Many patients who took these medications felt terrible, had pains, insomnia, mental health symptoms such as depression or anxiety, and developed anemia or other serious health complications. Many patients had to stop the medications because they could not deal with the side effects. Only about half of people treated were cured through this grueling process! Those that made it through should be recognized for their strength.
The new world of Hep C Treatment
The good news is Hep C treatment has totally changed in the last few years, for the better. Since 2014, Hep C has been treatable with oral medications. Most recent regimens require as little as one pill a day. The new medications have very few side effects; in fact most patients report no side effects at all. The new medications cure almost all patients who take the medications as prescribed. There is even a new medication that treats all types of Hep C.
Many people who had negative experiences with Hep C treatment in the past are hesitant to try the new meds, for fear they will go through the same trauma again. It’s important to know how much has changed, so that patients can be open-minded and try treatment again now.
If you are cured of Hep C, you are much less likely to develop severe liver damage or liver cancer. Once you are cured of Hep C, liver damage can actually reverse in some cases. Getting rid of Hep C removes tremendous physical and psychological stress, including feeling stigmatized by the illness.
If you or a loved one has Hep C, leave the past behind and find out about the new treatments today! Everyone deserves the cure.
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Nirah is a clinical social worker and public health professional who has been raising awareness about hepatitis C and liver health in NYC since 2007. She organizes the Hep Free NYC network in NYC. @HepFreeNYC