About four million Americans are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, and most of them do not know it.
Often, patients live for years or decades with few or no symptoms while the virus destroys the liver.
A new treatment has just been approved by the FDA, and it is helping more and more patients rid the body of the virus for good.
Rhonda Gilbert loves to cook for hours, but until just a few months ago, she could not stand for more than a few minutes.
Rhonda says, "I would walk down the block, and I would get so exhausted, I would have to sit down."
For more than a decade, Gilbert lived with persistent fatigue. It is one of the most common symptoms for people infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C enters the bloodstream and attacks the liver. It can be introduced into the body during intravenous drug use, or before 1990, during a blood transfusion.
Rhonda Gilbert needed a transfusion in 1972 after a tonsillectomy. Her doctors believe the virus has been attacking her body since then. Doctors say, until now, the standard treatment for Hepatitis C has been a weekly injection of Interferon and a pill taken twice daily called Ribavirin. This treatment works in about half the patients.
Dr. Stuart Gordon is an expert in liver disease. He has been tracking the results when a third drug is added to the mix. Boceprevir is a protease inhibitor, meaning it works by blocking the virus’ ability to replicate.
Dr. Gordon, the Director of Hepatology at Henry Ford Health System, says, "We've looked in liver tissue and blood cells and followed up with these patients years later. The virus is still gone. That's as close to a cure as you're going to get."
Rhonda Gilberr was treated with the three-drug cocktail in 2009. The virus is now gone, and Gilbert’s energy is back for the first time in almost 20 years.
Dr. Gordon says the drug cocktail using the protease inhibitor Boceprevir worked for almost 70% of the patients in the trial.
BACKGROUND: According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to inflammation of the liver. The virus has an acute and chronic form. Most people who are infected with the virus have the chronic form. Some people are at an increased risk of developing the viral disease. People who may be at risk include those who:
* have been on long-term kidney dialysis.
* have regular contact with blood at work.
* have unprotected sexual contact with a person who has hepatitis.
* inject street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C.
* received a tattoo or acupuncture with contaminated instruments.
* received blood, blood products, or solid organs from a donor who has hepatitis C.
* share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors with someone who has hepatitis C.
* were born to a hepatitis C-infected mother.
SYMPTOMS: Hepatitis C can oftentimes go undetected because most people recently infected with the virus do not have symptoms. Typically, there are no symptoms. A person who has been infected for several years may develop cirrhosis of the liver, abdominal pain or swelling, dark urine, fatigue or fever. In some cases, an infected person may experience jaundice, nausea, itching and a loss of appetite.
TREATMENT: If not caught in time, cirrhosis of the liver could develop into liver cancer. Physicians may use multiple medications to help remove HCV from the bloodstream. The most common medications are a combination of interferon alfa and ribavirin, which is an antiviral medication. Most patients receive weekly injections of the interferon and take ribavirin capsules twice a day. The treatment is given for 24-48 weeks.
Researchers now say boceprevir, a protease inhibitor, can be added to that regimen for increased success. Clinical trials showed that in the difficult-to-treat genotype 1 patients, boceprevir had sustained virological response rates as high as 67 percent.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Maria Seyrig, Sr. Public Relations Officer
Henry Ford Health System