New Treatment For Hepatitis C

More Cures, Less Side Effects With Pegylated Interferon

What Is the Treatment for Hepatitis?. © Getty Images

A new treatment for Hepatitis C which includes a longer-acting form of interferon has been found to cure more patients and cause less side effects, in a study conducted in 81 medical centers.

The experimental treatment includes a once-a-week shot of Pegasys, a long-acting form of interferon known as pegylated interferon, along with daily antiviral pills called ribavirin. The standard treatment for Hepatitis C has been three shots of shorter-acting interferon per week along with the ribavirin pills.

Pagasys Treatment Study

In the recently completed study, one group was given the new Pagasys treatment, one group the standard treatment, and a third group was given Pagasys only, without the ribavirin pills.

The treatment lasted for 48 weeks. Six months after the treatment stopped, 56 patients saw all traces of the virus eliminated with the new program, compared to 44 percent with the standard treatment. Additionally, Twenty-nine percent of those in a third group who received Pegasys shots alone were cured.

Treating Hepatitis C

"This is one of the first times where we have more than half the people we treat have a good response," said lead researcher Dr. Michael W. Fried, director of liver disease treatment at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The study of 1,121 patients worldwide, was published in the September 26, 2002 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Fried said after 12 weeks of treatment, doctors can tell which patients Pegasys probably will cure.

The others can stop the lengthy treatment, and avoid the serious side effects.

Leading Reason for Transplants

Hepatitis C, one of several kinds of hepatitis, kills nearly 10,000 Americans annually and is the leading reason for liver transplants. An estimated 4 million Americans have Hepatitis C and that number is expected to triple by 2010.

Update: By 2006, the number of cases of Hepatitis C in the United States had actually dropped to 3.2 million and the rate of new cases dropped by 90%.

Hep C, as it is called, is transmitted through the sharing of intravenous needles, sexual intercourse (only when there is an exchange of blood), and accidental needle punctures among medical workers. Blood transfusions also spread the virus before blood screening started in 1992.

See also: Advance Reported in Fight Against Hepatitis C

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