What can you expect, by way of treatment, after you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C? The short answer to this question is; actually very little. In fact, when it comes to medical interference, the doctors do not interfere a lot. You will be monitored frequently of course, to chart the progress of the disease. The medics will also look to see how well your body is doing, in fighting back against the virus in your liver and bloodstream.
If you have been diagnosed with a positive antibody and PCR blood test, you may well be suffering the symptoms of hepatitis c. These are hardly distinguishable from influenza symptoms. But if the disease is not overcome naturally you may be put on a half years course of drugs. Mainly, one called ‘pegylated interferon’. Currently, this treatment is successful in killing off the virus in 8 out of 10 patients.
This drug is a manmade protein very similar to the body’s own natural version, which is very effective in overcoming hepatitis C. Pegylated interferon is administered by an injection and used together with Ribavirin capsules. This is an antiviral chemical for retarding the spread of viruses through the body.
As T.S.Eliot famously once said, ‘we are all unique, but very similar’,and so it is with this combination treatment of hepatitis C patients. If a patient has what is called ‘genotype 1′, then the therapy will be for 12 months minimum. All other genotypes have to undergo the treatment for half the time. So you could face a year of weekly injections and double daily doses of ribavirin tablets at meal times.
But it could be worse! Patients are tested after four weeks, and the treatment may be stopped if it isn’t doing the job. If your virus has genotype 1 there is only a 50% chance that the combination therapy will work effectively. Other virus genotypes are more easily defeated, and between 7 and 8 out 10 patients are cured in this way.
Then there are the side effects. Three-quarters patients on the combination therapy will suffer from one or more than one of these by products:
Anaemia that makes you tired and out of puff after even light exercise.
Listlessness and the ‘blues’
Anxiety and loss of patience
Hard to get a full and good sleep pattern
Cognitive impairment and dizziness
Itchy skin, loss of hair and feeling queasy
2 Day flu symptoms with each injection
The side effects will normally peter out as the patient’s body grows accustomed to the treatment. But there is no getting away from the cure. Since missing injections or stopping the tablets will just prolong the disease. Pregnant patients cannot undergo this therapy as the tablets will harm the baby. For the same reason, hepatitis men must not have sex with pregnant women while in treatment and for several months after.
There are new drugs and advances in medical treatment constantly cropping up onto the market. But it cannot be emphasised enough that they work so much better with early diagnosis of the condition. The best thing that you can do right now, if you are worried you have hepatitis C is to book an appointment with your local GP to discuss your fears, and request a blood test.