Chronic hepatitis C is caused by a virus that spreads from person to person through contact with blood. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause liver damage.  

Keep reading to learn about the different types of treatments and the latest ones to hit the market.

Hepatitis C Treatment

Hepatitis C is treated with drugs designed to help rid your body of the hepatitis C virus (HCV).

There are several treatment options for hepatitis C. The drug regimen your doctor recommends will vary depending on the type of virus you have.

Medications and recommendations for hepatitis C treatment are changing constantly. New medications are helping people who previously did not have luck with treatment or who may have been unable to receive HCV treatment due to other medical problems. These new medications are more effective and have fewer side effects.

Antiviral Drugs

For many years, a combination of two antiviral drugs were used to treat hepatitis C. Antiviral drugs are medicines designed to rid the body of viruses.

The two medicines are called pegylated interferon (PEG) and ribavirin. PEG is taken as a weekly injection. Ribavirin pills are taken twice daily.

It typically took between six months to a year to complete a round of the combination therapy, sometimes called PEG/riba.

PEG/riba therapy alone worked for less than half of people with genotype 1, the most common type of hepatitis C in the United States. Roughly 75 percent of Americans with hepatitis C have genotype 1.  

Side effects from PEG/riba treatment can be severe, and may include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • nausea
  • insomnia
  • depression
  • anemia

Treatment options began to get better in 2011 with the introduction of a new class of drugs called direct-acting antivirals. These medicines help to destroy the virus directly by interfering with its ability to reproduce and stay in the body.

Direct-acting antivirals are more effective against most types of hepatitis C than interferon and ribavirin alone. They also have fewer side effects.

Direct-acting antivirals have become the standard of treatment for people with chronic hepatitis C. PEG/riba therapy still may be used in combination with direct-acting antivirals depending on the type of hepatitis C.

Some direct-acting antivirals can cause bad reactions with other medicines, such as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs or certain medicines for erectile dysfunction.

Protease Inhibitors

Protease inhibitors are a new type of direct-acting antiviral medicine used to treat HCV.

There are two protease inhibitors available in the United States: simeprevir (Olysio, Sovriad) and paritaprevir. Both may be used in combination with other drugs depending on the type of hepatitis C.

Protease inhibitors are more effective at treating genotype 1 than previous therapies for hepatitis C infections. These drugs also cause fewer, and less severe, side effects.

Interferon-Free Therapies

Two groundbreaking, interferon-free therapies became available in the United States for people with genotype 1 in late 2014. The medications, marketed as Harvoni and Viekira Pak, are the first all-oral, interferon-free therapies available for people with genotype 1.

Harvoni is a single tablet that contains a combination of two drugs. It’s taken once a day for 12 to 24 weeks.

People using Viekira Pak (a combination of three medications) take four to six pills per day for 12 to 24 weeks.

Both drugs have been shown to cure more than 90 percent of patients with HCV genotype 1.

Side effects of the new medications are generally mild, and may include headaches and fatigue.

Before starting any treatment, it’s important to discuss all medications you’re taking with your doctor. That should include both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

Check out our Hepatitis C Topic Center for more helpful information on treatments.