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Health Issues

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Hepatitis C

Treatment and Care

There is no cure for hepatitis C, but medications in some cases can suppress the virus for a long period of time.

Some patients with hepatitis C benefit from treatment with interferon alpha or a combination of interferon alpha and ribavirin. Interferon alpha is given by injection just under the skin and has a number of side effects, including:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low white blood cell counts
  • Nausea
  • Thinning of hair
  • Vomiting

Treatment with interferon alpha may also affect the production of white blood cells and platelets. Most patients receive weekly injections with a form called pegylated interferon alpha. Interferon is given along with antiviral medication, most commonly ribavirin.

Ribavirin is a capsule taken twice daily. The major side effect is low red blood cells (anemia). Ribavirin also causes birth defects. Women should avoid getting pregnant during, and for 6 months following, treatment.

A "sustained response" means that the patient remains free of hepatitis C virus 6 months after stopping treatment. This does not mean that the patient is cured, but that the levels of active hepatitis C virus in the body are very low and are probably not causing more or as much damage.

Rest may be recommended during the acute phase of the disease when the symptoms are most severe. All patients with hepatitis C should get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.

People with hepatitis C should also be careful not to take vitamins, nutritional supplements, or new over-the-counter medications without first discussing it with their health care provider.

People with hepatitis C should avoid any substances that are toxic to the liver (hepatotoxic), including alcohol. Even moderate amounts of alcohol speed up the progression of hepatitis C, and alcohol reduces the effectiveness of treatment.