Currently Available Treatments for Hepatitis C
Current therapies for Hepatitis C are often ineffective and can be extremely unpleasant to take. Successful treatment is unfortunately the exception. Current treatment of Hep C infection leads to sustained viral clearance of only 15-30 percent. However, even with the current combination regimes, at least 70% of patients do not achieve any therapeutic benefit. Research efforts are focused on four areas:
Alpha-interferons are a group of natural substances produced by the body to fight viral infections. Injected forms are the cornerstones of current Liver treatment. Scientists are modifying interferon and developing new types in an effort to improve the compound's activity. One modified interferon, known as PEGylated interferon, shows great promise as a more effective agent than current interferon. Although it was initially hailed as a therapy of great promise, it has been an extreme disappointment.
Early laboratory experiments revealed that certain interleukins, which are natural infection-fighting compounds, might be able to suppress the Liver virus. However, more recent studies have raised questions about the effectiveness of interleukin treatment. Nevertheless, further attempts to develop interleukin compounds for possible use against Liver are in progress.
The Liver virus uses a molecule called "protease" to reproduce. (Other viruses use proteases to survive, including HIV. Although the molecules have similar names, they are quite different, and drugs that inhibit the HIV protease do not work against the Liver protease). Researchers are currently developing several different types of drugs that block the Liver protease. Protease inhibitors for Liver are being evaluated in basic laboratory experiments and are not yet available in clinical trials.
Researchers are attempting to develop a vaccine to prevent Liver infection. Vaccines against the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B viruses are already available. Scientists hope to build on these successes; however, production of a Liver vaccine is likely many, many years away and will be of no help to those already infected.
The side effects of these "treatments" are severe and numerous. 40% of patients on these treatments need to have their dosages dropped to cope with side effects. 15% must discontinue altogether. Another serious concern is the fact that 50% of those who do not respond to treatment relapse when treatment is stopped.
Further side effects of the treatments include; severe depression, psychoses, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, suicide attempts, serious drop in white blood cells (the cells that fight infection), fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, anemia, autoimmune disease, fever, bone marrow suppression, hair loss, itching, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and death.
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