Back in the day, treatments for hep C were almost as scary as the disease itself. Doctors used a series of injections of a treatment called recombinant interferon-alfa (IFNa). It often caused unpleasant side effects such as hair loss, gum disease, liver damage, and severe depression.
Worse yet, months of IFNa injections cleared the hep C virus from only about 10 percent of people. Many were left debating whether the treatment was even worth trying.
Nowadays, things are different. New antiviral medications can clear the virus from the body in just a few months and cure hep C. That’s good news for the estimated 2.4 million people living with hepatitis C in the United States.
While these medications can cause side effects, they’re generally mild compared to those of earlier treatments. The biggest downside is the sky-high cost.
But since hep C can lead to serious liver damage down the road, it’s worth looking into the treatment options.
The 2010s marked a new era for hep C treatments. That’s when doctors started using direct-acting antiviral medications to treat the condition.
Unlike those not-so-great treatments of the 1990s, medications like sofosbuvir and simeprevir, which were released a couple decades later, could be taken orally (no needles required!) and could usually kick out the virus in 8 to 12 weeks.
Plus, these medications had far fewer side effects. It was a revolution in treatment, but it was just the beginning.
Since then, treatments for hep C have evolved even further. Over the last couple of years, the FDA has approved two new medications: Mayvret (glecaprevir/pibrentasvir) and Epclusa (sofosbuvir/velpatasvir). Mayvret works in just 8 weeks, and Epclusa is safe for kids as young as 6. Talk about a game-changer!
Antiviral medications have boosted the cure rate for hep C as high as 96 percent in people who get treatment.
While some alternative treatments may help manage symptoms of hep C (which many people never notice to begin with), there are no dietary supplements or other natural treatments proven to cure the disease. Supplements don’t reduce the virus in your body or undo its damage to your liver.
Though colloidal silver has been rumored to help hep C, it can actually cause irreversible side effects and isn’t considered safe. And you probably shouldn’t bother with milk thistle supplements, either. Research has found that the stuff is no match for the hep C virus.
Given that untreated hep C can cause serious liver damage, it’s important to find an effective treatment pretty soon after you’re diagnosed. Skip the unproven supplements and instead talk with your healthcare provider about a medication that has a high potential to work.
While the new treatments are impressive, researchers continue to try to find a vaccine. In 2019, a preventive hep C vaccine was put into clinical trials, but it wasn’t effective. Womp womp.
Still, there’s hope! Hepatitis C wasn’t even discovered until 1989, and in only about 25 years researchers were able to develop medications that could cure the disease. Hopefully vaccine research will continue to evolve so we can get rid of this disease.
As great as these hep C treatments are, they don’t come cheap. One pill of Sovaldi costs $1,000 in the United States, bringing the total cost for a 12-week treatment to a staggering $84,000. And even though Mayvret is a little cheaper, the full course of treatment can still run you more than $26,000. Yikes!
And there’s no guarantee that your health insurance will help you out with the cost. A 2018 study found that Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance providers denied treatment for one-third of people who had been prescribed antiviral medications for hepatitis C.
Even though these medications are expensive, very few people relapse after treatment, so you’ll probably need to deal with the cost only once.
Without treatment, you might one day need a liver transplant. That procedure, plus the $2,500 or more worth of medications you’ll need each month afterward, can end up being a lot more expensive than hep C medications — not to mention the stress and surgery you’d have to go through.
But you don’t necessarily need to foot the bill for hep C treatment on your own. From patient advocacy groups to payment plans from the drug manufacturers themselves, there are ways to bring down the price of the medication. Connect with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about covering the costs.
Hep C treatments used to involve getting injections and coping with side effects for months — and at the end of it all, they often didn’t even cure the disease.
Thanks to new antiviral medications, the hep C virus can be effectively banished from your body. These drugs usually involve taking one pill per day for up to 12 weeks, and voila! — the virus disappears.
The main thing you may need to cope with is the cost. A course of treatment can easily run you five figures. While that might be tough to stomach, keep in mind that treating hep C now may help you avoid serious liver disease and the need for a transplant later on.
The good news is that payment plans and patient advocacy groups can help make the cost of treatment more manageable. Connect with your healthcare provider to figure out which treatments can work for both your body and your budget.