Better treatment on the way for Hepatitis C

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Hepatitis C is a silent epidemic. A government task force says all baby boomers should get tested for the virus. They could have been infected years ago through IV drug use, blood transfusions or other blood-to-blood contact.

Sally Myers learned she had the virus after a routine blood test as part of getting life insurance.

“I don’t know how I got it or how long I’ve had it,” said Sally.

Sally hopes to rid her body of the virus and prevent liver cancer, scarring and liver failure.

For 30 weeks, she’s taking an interferon shot once a week plus two different pills on a strict schedule multiple times a day. Side effects include flu-like symptoms and anemia.

“I just make myself keep going,” Sally said. “I don’t let it get me.”

Dr. Fredric Regenstein of Saint Luke’s Hospital says many patients quit because they can’t tolerate the side effects. That’s even though the therapy has a 70 percent cure rate.

Now doctors say better Hepatitis C treatment should be FDA-approved before the end of the year.

A new pill called sofosbuvir interferes with replication of the virus. The once-a-day pill is expected to become the backbone of Hepatitis C treatment, replacing interferon shots.

“We’re hoping to expand the number of people we can treat, improve the success rate and reduce the side effects,” said Dr. Regenstein.

It could also shorten treatment time. A new, small study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when the new pill was taken along with one of the older pills, even difficult-to-treat cases of Hepatitis C were cured.

The new pill is one of two for Hepatitis C that’s expected to get approval soon. The other is simiprevir. Costs are not known yet.

Around 15,000 Americans die each year from liver problems related to Hepatitis C.

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