Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by infection with hepatitis C virus (HCV). This type of virus has been recently identified to cause a wide range of liver diseases such as cirrhosis (liver cancer). Without the aid of treatment, persons with hepatitis C can over time develop serious complications that involve the liver, including cancerous activity at the level of the organ. In order to minimize the risks of complications and to control the effects of hepatitis C, doctors often prescribe a course of specific medications right after they identify the presence of HCV in patients. As in the case of other similar infectious diseases, hepatitis C treatments are most efficient when prescribed in the early stages of the infection. Otherwise, hepatitis C can eventually become chronic, rendering existing treatments unable to completely cure the infection.
Hepatitis C treatments commonly used involve the administration of interferon, a medication that was initially designed to treat patients diagnosed with leukemia. Interferon is actually a natural body protein produced when viral infectious agents intrude inside the human body. Although the body produces interferon in small quantities, this protein is very effective in fighting against viral infections. However, the beneficial effects of interferon can nowdays be enhanced by modifying the protein in the laboratory. The majority of patients with mild, uncomplicated forms of hepatitis C generally respond well to treatments with interferon, completely recovering from disease after completing longer courses with this type of medication. At the opposite pole, patients with chronic or more advanced forms of hepatitis C are often confronted with relapse soon after they stop receiving such treatments.
The main problem with interferon-based treatments is that they are inappropriate for patients with chronic forms of hepatitis C. In addition, long-term treatments with interferon can produce several side-effects and thus they are not usually administrated for more than 6 months . For patients with chronic hepatitis C and patients who fail to respond to treatments with interferon, combination treatments are generally the best option available. Commonly used combination treatments consist of peginterferon (chemically altered alpha interferon) and strong antiviral medications. A very extensively used antiviral medication is ribavirin. This efficient antiviral agent is often administrated along with peginterferon in order to obtain the best results. Administered in the right doses and over longer periods of time, combination treatments with peginterferon and ribavirin can successfully cure patients with acute hepatitis C, as well as patients with chronic, recidivating forms of the disease.
While these previously mentioned forms of treatment are effective among patients with uncomplicated forms of hepatitis C, they are often useless when administered to patients with advanced hepatitis. For patients with severe hepatitis C, liver transplant is the only available option in present.