How Do You Treat Hepatitis C
People with acute infection do not always need treatment, because their immune system may clear hepatitis C on its own. If you test positive during the acute stage, your doctor may ask you to come back after a few months to re-test and to see if you need any treatment.
If people develop chronic infection, they will need treatment to help clear the virus. Where available, treatment with drugs called direct-acting antivirals can cure hepatitis in most cases. These are usually taken for 8-12 weeks. Your doctor will also check your liver for any damage.
If youve had hepatitis C in the past, youre not immune to future infections which means you can get it again. You can also still get other types of hepatitis, and having hepatitis C together with another type is more serious.
If youve already had hepatitis C, its advisable to have the vaccination against hepatitis A and B to protect your liver from further damage.
Whether you have symptoms or not, dont have sex until your healthcare professional says you can.
What Do Hepatitis C Symptoms Look Like
Hepatitis C infection can go through two stages: acute and chronic. In the early, or acute stage, most people don’t have symptoms. If they do develop symptoms, these can include:
- flu-like symptoms, tiredness, high temperature and aches and pains
- loss of appetite
- tummy pain
- jaundice, meaning your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow
While for some people, the infection will clear without treatment, in most cases, acute infection will develop into long-term chronic infection. Chronic infection may not become apparent for a number of years until the liver displays signs of damage. These symptoms can include:
- mental confusion and depression these are specific to hepatitis C
- constantly feeling tired
- nausea, vomiting or tummy pain
- dark urine
- feeling bloated
- joint and muscle pain
Without treatment, chronic hepatitis C can cause scarring of the liver , which can cause the liver to stop working properly. A small number of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer and these complications can lead to death. Other than a liver transplant, theres no cure for cirrhosis. However, treatments can help relieve some of the symptoms.
How Much Does Hepatitis C Treatment Cost
It is impossible to say what the exact cost is for the various regimens, but it is in the tens of thousands of dollars. In general, out of pocket cost would be very high for the average person, and most people are treated through a health insurer, federal health benefits, or veteran’s benefits. The cost of hepatitis C and the care of its complications, however, is much higher over a person’s lifetime, and the roughly estimated savings is believed to make treatment a good health and financial investment. Liver transplantation alone may cost several hundred thousand dollars for the procedure alone, followed by several hundred thousand for the medications needed in the first 6 months afterward.2 This does not include the many complications of liver transplantation.
Because negotiations are confidential business contracts, little is known about how much is actually paid for medical treatments by these drugs. One example is the medication sofosbuvir. Estimated costs for a standard 12-week treatment with sosobuvir was $84,000 in the US. Actual costs to individuals depend upon price contracts between pharmaceutical companies and health insurers, as well as government and private organizations. Thus, an individual with healthcare coverage may only pay a monthly co-pay.4
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How Effective Is Treatment
Direct-acting antivirals cure 9 out of 10 patients with hepatitis C.
Successful treatment does not give you any protection against another hepatitis C infection. You can still catch it again.
There’s no vaccine for hepatitis C.
If treatment does not work, it may be repeated, extended, or a different combination of medicines may be tried.
Your doctor or nurse will be able to advise you.
How Do You Get Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus. Today, hepatitis C is most often transmitted by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. If you inject drugs, always use new, sterile needles and dont reuse or share needles, syringes, or other injection drug equipment.
Hepatitis C can also be transmitted during sex. When used consistently and correctly, condoms protect against hepatitis C and many other STDs.
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Spread Of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact when blood from a person with hepatitis C enters another persons bloodstream.
The most common way people become infected with hepatitis C in Australia is by sharing injecting equipment such as needles, syringes, spoons and tourniquets. It is possible to be infected with hepatitis C after only one risk event.
Hepatitis C may also be spread through:
- tattooing and body piercing with equipment that has not been properly cleaned, disinfected or sterilised such as backyard tattoos’. Registered parlours with appropriate infection control procedures are not a risk
- needlestick injuries in a healthcare setting
- receiving blood transfusions in Australia prior to 1990 before hepatitis C virus testing of blood donations was introduced
- medical procedures, blood transfusions or blood products and mass immunisation programs provided in a country other than Australia
- pregnancy or childbirth there is a 5% chance of a mother with chronic hepatitis C infection passing on the virus to her baby during pregnancy or childbirth.
Breastfeeding is safe, however if nipples are cracked or bleeding cease breastfeeding until they have healed.
Less likely possible routes of transmission of hepatitis C include:
Hepatitis C cannot be transmitted by:
- sharing food, cups or cutlery
- shaking hands or day-to-day physical contact.
Are Alternative Medicines Available
Some people believe certain forms of alternative medicine help cure hepatitis C.
However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health reports that there are no effective, research-proven forms of alternative treatment or complementary medicine for hepatitis C.
Silymarin, also known as milk thistle, is an herb commonly suggested to help cure hepatitis C liver disease. But a rigorous did not find any beneficial effects from this supplement.
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Hiv And Hepatitis C Coinfection
HCV infection is common among people with HIV who also inject drugs. Nearly 75% of people living with HIV who report a history of injection drug use are co-infected with HCV. All people who are diagnosed with HIV are recommended to be tested for HCV at least once. People living with HIV are at greater risk for complications and death from HCV infection. Fortunately, direct acting antivirals that are used to treat HCV work equally well in people with and without HIV infection. For more information about HIV and HCV coinfection, visit the HIV.govs pages about hepatitis C and HIV coinfection.
Why Should People Take Antiviral Medications For Hepatitis C
The purpose of taking antiviral medications for hepatitis C is to:
- remove all the hepatitis C virus from your body permanently
- stop or slow down the damage to your liver
- reduce the risk of developing cirrhosis
- reduce the risk of developing liver cancer
- reduce the risk of liver failure and the need for a liver transplant
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What Are The Treatments For Hepatitis C
Treatment for hepatitis C is with antiviral medicines. They can cure the disease in most cases.
If you have acute hepatitis C, your health care provider may wait to see if your infection becomes chronic before starting treatment.
If your hepatitis C causes cirrhosis, you should see a doctor who specializes in liver diseases. Treatments for health problems related to cirrhosis include medicines, surgery, and other medical procedures. If your hepatitis C leads to liver failure or liver cancer, you may need a liver transplant.
Effective Treatments Are Available For Hepatitis C
New medication to treat for HCV have been approved in recent years. These treatments are much better than the previously available treatment because they have few side effects and do not need to be injected. There are several direct-acting antiviral HCV treatments that cure more than 95% of people who take them in 8 to 12 weeks. HCV treatment dramatically reduces deaths among people with HCV infection, and people who are cured of HCV are much less likely to develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Take Action! CDCs National Prevention Information Network Service Locator helps consumers locate hepatitis B and hepatitis C prevention, care, and treatment services.
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The Cost Of Hepatitis C Treatment
Though all of these drugs have been hailed as major medical breakthroughs, much of the discussion around them has focused on their exorbitant price tags. When sofosbuvir was released, it made news because a 12-week round of treatment came in at a total of $84,000. Harvoni cost even more — $94,500 for a 12-week course, though some patients may be cured after only eight weeks, or $63,000. Gilead’s newer offering, Epclusa, goes for just over $74,000. The gamechanger in the market may be Mavyret, which costs $26,500 for treatment. As of January 2019, there are also of some of these drugs available at lower prices.
There have been many arguments about whether these prices may be justified if they actually do provide a permanent cure. Patients with hep C who are not cured often go on to need far more expensive care. One study estimated that yearly care for an HCV patient without liver damage is approximately $5,800. This goes up to over $27,000 each year for an HCV patient with decompensated cirrhosis of the liver, over $43,000 a year for an HCV patient with liver cancer, and over $93,000 a year for a patient who has had a liver transplant.
In the long term, it is likely cheaper for insurers to pay for treatment with a DAA than to wait and pay for ongoing care once the patient gets sicker. Moreover, curing those who have been diagnosed would also prevent the virus from spreading further, which could in turn keep future costs down.
Incomplete Or Failed Response To Treatment
Some people with autoimmune hepatitis have an incomplete response to treatment, meaning that treatment helps but does not lead to remission. If you have an incomplete response to treatment, you may need to take different medicines to help prevent liver damage.
Some people may fail to respond to treatment, meaning that the inflammation and liver damage of autoimmune hepatitis keep getting worse. Your doctor may recommend additional blood tests and higher doses of medicines. If liver damage leads to complications, you may need treatment for complications.
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How Can I Protect Myself From Hepatitis C Infection
If you dont have hepatitis C, you can help protect yourself from hepatitis C infection by
- not sharing drug needles or other drug materials
- wearing gloves if you have to touch another persons blood or open sores
- making sure your tattoo artist or body piercer uses sterile tools and unopened ink
- not sharing personal items such toothbrushes, razors, or nail clippers
Hepatitis C can spread from person to person during sex, but the chances are low. People who have multiple sex partners, have HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, or who engage in rough or anal sex have a higher chance of getting hepatitis C. Talk with your doctor about your risk of getting hepatitis C through sex and about safe sex practices, such as using a latex or polyurethane condom to help prevent the spread of hepatitis C.
If you had hepatitis C in the past and your body fought off the infection or medicines cured the infection, you can get hepatitis C again. Follow the steps above, and talk with your doctor about how to protect yourself from another hepatitis C infection.
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus, see your doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage.
Complications Of Hepatitis C
If the infection is left untreated for many years, some people with hepatitis C will develop scarring of the liver .
Over time, this can cause the liver to stop working properly.
In severe cases, life-threatening problems, such as liver failure, where the liver loses most or all of its functions, or liver cancer, can eventually develop.
Treating hepatitis C as early as possible can help reduce the risk of these problems happening.
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Who Should Get Tested
You should consider getting tested for hepatitis C if you’re worried you could have been infected or you fall into one of the groups at an increased risk of being infected.
- Hepatitis C often has no symptoms, so you may still be infected if you feel healthy.
- The following groups of people are at an increased risk of hepatitis C:
- ex-drug users and current drug users, particularly users of injected drugs
- people who received blood transfusions before September 1991
- recipients of organ or tissue transplants before 1992
- people who have lived or had medical treatment in an area where hepatitis C is common high risk areas include North Africa, the Middle East and Central and East Asia
- babies and children whose mothers have hepatitis C
- anyone accidentally exposed to the virus, such as health workers
- people who have received a tattoo or piercing where equipment may not have been properly sterilised
- sexual partners of people with hepatitis C
If you continue to engage in high-risk activities, such as injecting drugs frequently, regular testing may be recommended. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.
Differences In Hepatitis B And C Treatments
Guidelines for the medical treatment of a co-infection with hepatitis B and C have not been clearly set, according to Ibrahim Hanouneh, MD, a hepatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. There are scant data and no standard-of-care recommendations, he says. But limited research suggests treatment for hepatitis C is still effective even in the presence of the hepatitis B virus, he adds.
Medications for hepatitis C have improved dramatically in recent years. Not only are newer hepatitis C drugs easier for people to take, with fewer and less severe side effects, but they’re also effective, Alqahtani says, and cure rates are excellent.
For chronic hepatitis B infection, however, there’s currently no cure. Treatment involves slowing the progression of the virus and monitoring people for signs of liver damage, according to the CDC.
For this reason, Alqahtani says, doctors try to determine which virus is dominant in people with co-infection. We check the liver to see which virus is more active,” he says. “If its hepatitis C, we treat that virus first.” Once it’s cured, he says, the focus of treatment shifts to controlling hepatitis B.
Treatment for co-infection comes with specific concerns that should be monitored by your healthcare team, including:
- Liver transplant may be an option: People who develop severe cases of co-infection that result in liver failure may be candidates for liver transplant, Alqahtani says.
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Who Is At Risk For Hepatitis C
You are more likely to get hepatitis C if you:
- Have injected drugs
If you have chronic hepatitis C, you probably will not have symptoms until it causes complications. This can happen decades after you were infected. For this reason, hepatitis C screening is important, even if you have no symptoms.
What Can People Do To Help The Medications Work Best
- Take the medications every day
- Stay in touch with pharmacy to be sure that all refills are ready on time
- Take the medications exactly as prescribed
- Do not skip doses
- Get all blood tests done on time
- Go to all visits with providers as recommended
- Tell the provider about all other medications that are being taken – including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements
- Complete the entire course of medication
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Who Is Most At Risk Of Contracting Hepatitis C
You have a high risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
- use or have used injection drugs even if it was just once or many years ago
- have received blood or blood products or an organ transplant before July 1990 in Canada
- have been in jail or
- have been injected or scratched during vaccination, surgery, blood transfusion or a religious/ceremonial ritual in regions where hepatitis C is common.
You have a high moderate risk of contracting hepatitis C if you:
- have tattoos or body piercing
- have multiple sexual partners
- have a sexually transmitted infection , including HIV or lymphogranuloma venereum
- have experienced traumatic sex or rough sex or have used sex toys or fisting that can tear body tissue
- have vaginal sex during menstruation
- have received a kidney treatment
- have received an accidental injury from a needle or syringe
- have another infectious disease
- were born to a hepatitis C infected mother or
- have a sexual partner infected with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is NOT passed from person to person by:
- coughing, sneezing
- breastfeeding unless your nipples are cracked and bleeding or
- oral sex, unless blood is present.
Why Cure Hep C
Curing your hep C clears the virus from your body. It reduces liver inflammation and can help reverse fibrosis and even cirrhosis.
Live free from the worry of hep C knowing that you no longer have hep C can help you feel better about yourself. For example, you may no longer feel worried about passing hep C to other people. There has been no better time to think about hep C treatment.
Find out more about the benefits of clearing hep C call the Hepatitis Infoline.
Grace talks about her experience of being cured of hepatitis C with new, highly effective treatments. Theres never been a better time to be cured of hep C.
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