Treatment for the Hepatitis C virus infection has come a long way in the last several decades, and it's an incredible reality that in the year 2022, patients can be completely cured of Hep C. But this hasn't always been the case.
In the early days of research on chronic hepatitis, there were few options available for patients. In fact, prior to the development of antiviral drugs in the late 20th century, there was no specific treatment for HCV infection at all. So, how did we get to the point where we can easily detect and cure Hepatitis C?
At HepCMyWay, we're proud of our role in making treatment for Hep C as simple and accessible as possible. We provide remote treatment for patients throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio who have tested positive for Hep C, supporting you online with a real Hep C specialist and sending prescriptions conveniently and discreetly to your door.
That said, we also believe that it's crucial for patients to understand the history of this virus and the treatment options available today. Here's a brief overview of how we got to where we are today in the fight against Hep C:
Discovery of Hepatitis C
The first recorded outbreak of what we now know as Hepatitis C occurred in the 1970s. Symptoms included fatigue, jaundice, and dark urine, which are associated with liver cirrhosis.
In 1979, researchers discovered that this outbreak was caused by a previously unknown virus, which they named 'non-A, non-B hepatitis.'
At the time, there was no way to test for or treat this new virus. As a result, like other infectious diseases without a cure, it quickly spread among people who received blood transfusions.
Some of these patients experienced serious liver damage. Because a damaged liver can ultimately lead to liver cancer or liver failure, many of these patients ultimately required liver transplants or succumbed to the disease.
It wasn't until 1989 that scientists were able to identify the genetic structure of the non-A, non-B virus and give it the official name of Hepatitis C. This was a major breakthrough in our understanding of the virus, but there was still no specific treatment available.
Identifying Causes of Hepatitis C
The first step in developing a treatment for any chronic infection is understanding what causes it. In the case of HCV, this process was complicated by the fact that the virus can be transmitted in a number of ways.
It's now known that chronic Hepatitis C is most commonly spread through contact with infected blood. When the virus is transmitted, it enters the liver and begins to replicate. In some people, the immune system is able to clear the virus from the body within a few weeks.
However, in some people, the virus continues to replicate and causes a chronic infection. It's not yet known why this happens, but scientists believe that it may be due to a combination of factors, including the individual's genetic makeup and the specific strain of HCV they're infected with.
Identifying Risk Factors of HCV
It's also worth noting that people with certain risk factors -- including participating in what was known then as 'high-risk behaviors,' like drug use -- are more likely to develop a chronic HCV infection. These increased risk factors include:
- Receiving a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
- Being born to a mother with HCV
- Sharing needles and syringes during drug use
- Less frequently, having sexual partners who have Hep C
Fortunately, as our understanding of Hepatitis C has grown, so have the options for treatment. In the next section, we'll take a look at the first approved antiviral medications and how they've been used to develop the highly effective treatments we have today.
Diagnosing Chronic Hepatitis C Early
The first step in treating any chronic infection is making an accurate diagnosis. That's why it was a major breakthrough when, in 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted clinical trials and approved the first test to detect HCV antibodies in the blood.
This blood test, called an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), was a major step forward in our ability to diagnose HCV early. However, it did have some limitations. In some cases, the test could produce false-positive results, and it couldn't always distinguish between acute Hepatitis and chronic Hepatitis C infections.
In 1997, another major breakthrough came in the form of a more sensitive and specific test known as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which you may be familiar with because of COVID. This test can detect a viral load, which is the amount of HCV present in the blood.
A PCR test can also be used to determine if someone has an active infection and is able to spread HCV to others. This is important because some people with the virus don't show any symptoms of Hepatitis C, and may not even know they're infected.
Successful Hepatitis C Treatments
Once Hepatitis is detected, the next step is finding an effective treatment. Fortunately, in the last few decades, there have been major advancements in the development of antiviral medications that can be used to treat HCV.
The first approved antiviral Hep C medications for chronic HCV infection -- interferon alfa-2b and ribavirin -- were approved by the FDA in 1998.
Interferon is a protein that's naturally produced by the body in response to a viral infection. It works by interfering with the replication of the HCV virus. Ribavirin is an antiviral medication that's thought to work by interfering with the way the HCV virus replicates.
The combination of these two medications was shown to be more effective than either one alone, and they became the standard of care for Hep C treatment. However, these medications had some major drawbacks.
These Hepatitis C treatments had to be injected, they produced a number of uncomfortable and sometimes serious side effects, and they weren't always effective. In fact, depending on the type of HCV someone was infected with, treatment with interferon and ribavirin had a success rate of only about 50 percent.
Today's Hepatitis C Medications
In the last few years, there have been major advancements in the development of more effective and tolerable antiviral medications for the treatment of HCV.
The first new generation of HCV treatments -- known as Direct Acting Antivirals, or DAAs -- was approved by the FDA in 2011. These drugs work by directly targeting the HCV virus, which interferon and ribavirin cannot do.
These are the types of medications we typically prescribe at HepCMyWay. DAAs are taken orally, they have very few side effects, and they're much more effective than interferon and ribavirin. In fact, treatment with DAAs can cure Hepatitis C in more than 95 percent of cases.
How do we know you're cured? Once you've taken your prescribed dose, you'll be tested for something called 'sustained virologic response,' or SVR. SVR is defined as the successful eradication of HCV from the body, and it's considered to be a cure.
The Future of Hepatitis C Treatment
As you can see, there have been major advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C over the last few decades. And researchers are still working hard to develop even more effective and tolerable HCV treatments.
One promising area of research is the development of an effective vaccine for HCV. While there is currently no vaccine, we know that a vaccine could potentially prevent people from becoming infected with HCV in the first place, and it would be a major breakthrough in fighting against this disease and helping patients stay virus free.
Get Remote Hep C Treatment Near You
If you've tested positive for Hepatitis C, you may be feeling afraid, but all the progress we've made in the field of Hep C treatment should give you peace of mind that you can (and will) be cured.
At HepCMyWay, we specialize in remote HCV treatment, which means that if you live in Pennsylvania or Ohio, you can get the care and support you need from the comfort of your own home. We make it as easy as three simple steps:
- Step 1: Fill out our patient-friendly form, or give us a call if you’re more comfortable talking to a person.
- Step 2: We’ll schedule a convenient time for you to visit a lab or send one of our experienced, compassionate phlebotomists to draw your blood. We’ll then send that blood to the lab, where pretreatment testing will be conducted.
- Step 3: Once you have the results of your test, we will schedule a telemedicine visit with you so we can discuss how to move forward with a real Hep C doctor.
Once you and your doctor decide which option is right for you, we'll ship your medication directly to your home in discreet packaging. If you're concerned about the cost of your medication, don't worry -- HepCMyWay is proud to offer treatment at little to no cost, regardless of your insurance situation.
If you're ready to take the first step towards getting rid of Hep C for good, fill out our simple patient form today.