Wiping out hepatitis C

New therapies are offering a cure for many


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Roger Warmuth loves spending time with his dogs Stella and Teak.

"They help me get through the tough times," he said.

Warmuth had some tough times to get through; 17 years ago he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a virus that attacks the liver.

"It's given me cirrhosis. My symptoms include muscle aches and bone aches," Warmuth said.

He tried interferon therapy, which is  an intense treatment that causes severe side effects and only works in less than half of patients.

"After going through all of this painful process of treatment, the odds were basically against them that they would not respond," explained Nizar Zein, MD, Chief of Hepatology and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation, Cleveland Clinic.

Now, there are new therapies that literally wipe out the infection. A class of drugs known as DAA targets the virus itself – not the immune system. They are oral drugs – and are taken for three or six months. In clinical trials, as many as 90 percent of patients were cured of their virus.

"Going from a very toxic, highly ineffective therapy, to a highly tolerated, almost universally effective treatment," Zein said.

Warmuth will start the new drug in the next month. He's hoping it will wipe out his infection for good – so he can focus on enjoying all the "warm" moments with his pups.

The most recently approved drug in this class, Sofosbuvir, was approved in December of 2013.

One downside is that it's very expensive . Some quotes have put it at $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment. Researchers and drug companies are working on ways to lower the price for patients. It can be used without interferon injections avoiding many side effects. The treatment is approved by some insurance nationwide.

Additional Information:

3.2 million Americans have hepatitis c. It's an inflammation of the liver that spreads through contact with infected blood; 25 percent of chronically infected patients can develop cirrhosis and related complications. It can also spread through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth. Most people do not have symptoms for years. Symptoms could feel like the flu. Jaundice, dark-colored urine, and pale bowel movements are also symptoms of hepatitis c. Medicines sometimes help, but side effects can be problematic. (Source: www.webmd.com)

CAUSES: Hepatitis c is caused by the hepatitis c virus. Liver damage from alcohol, poisonous mushrooms, or other poisons can cause hepatitis. An overdose of acetaminophen can also cause the illness. Exposure may occur after a needle stick or if someone who has hepatitis contacts a cut on the skin or contacts the eyes or mouth. Those at risk include street drug users, people on long term kidney dialysis, and those who have regular contact with blood at work, such as a health care worker. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: A class of drugs known as DAA, or direct-acting antiviral agents, can now target the hepatitis c virus . The oral drugs are taken for three month and in clinical trials 90 percent of patients were cured of their virus. The first drug approved is called Sofosbuvir, which gained FDA approval in December 2013. It works by blocking the RNA used by the virus to replicate itself. The drug costs about $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment, and is covered by some health insurances. This is the first drug that is safe and effective without the need for administration of interferons according to the FDA.  The most common side effects are fatigue, headache, nausea, insomnia, and anemia. (Source: www.fda.gov, Dr. Nizar Zein)