Liver Hepatitis C Treatment Antiviral Drugs

Antiviral drugs are a form of hepatitis C treatment that may help to clear the hepatitis C virus from the body. Combination therapy, with two types of medication for hepatitis C, appears to be the most effective medication plan. However, there are contraindications that you need to evaluate first with your doctor before starting any treatment plan. Antiviral drugs are injected subcutaneously (into the fatty layer under the skin).

Antiviral Drugs: Interferon

When a virus is present, the body’s immune system naturally produces interferon, a protein that fights against infection. Medication for hepatitis C is produced with synthetic forms of interferon. Earlier hepatitis C treatment involved alpha interferon, which required several injections a week. Today, however, the most common treatment option is pegylated interferon, or “peginterferon.”

In this treatment method, polyethylene glycol is added to alpha interferon to prolong and stabilize its effects in the body. The two types of peginterferon — alfa-2a and alfa-2b — differ primarily in terms of dosage. Peginterferon alfa-2a has a fixed weekly dose, alfa-2b dosage depends on the patient’s weight.

Antiviral Drugs: Ribavirin

This oral medication for hepatitis C can manage a number of viruses. Ribavirin is rarely an effective treatment for hepatitis C on its own. When combined with interferon, however, ribavirin can boost interferon’s effects and lead to increased treatment success.

Antiviral Drugs: Combination Treatment

The most effective hepatitis C treatment involves combination therapy with peginterferon and ribavirin. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) (2006), combination therapy can be up to 70 percent effective in clearing the virus, and results in a reduced rate of hepatitis C recurrence, as compared to monotherapy.

Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2009), concluded that for hepatitis C virus genotype one, peginterferon alfa-2a and alfa-2b had similar rates of success when administered in combination therapy with ribavirin.

Hepatitis C Treatment Factors

When you take antiviral drugs, the virus genotype generally affects treatment outcome. According to the NDDIC (2006), genotypes 2 and 3 are more likely to respond to hepatitis C treatment with interferon than genotype 1. Genotype 1 also typically requires a longer course of treatment with antiviral drugs (48 weeks as compared to 24 weeks for genotypes 2 and 3).

Overall health, including infection with other types of hepatitis or with HIV, also impacts an antiviral drug’s effectiveness. If you have both HIV and hepatitis C, you’re less likely to respond positively to antiviral combination drug treatment.

Side Effects of Antiviral Medication for Hepatitis C

Depending on the patient, hepatitis C treatment involving antiviral drugs may cause side effects, including:

  • Emotional effects (irritability, depression)
  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, body aches)
  • Hematological (blood) effects (anemia, bone marrow suppression)
  • Histamine-like effects (nasal congestion, rash and respiratory effects).

If severe side effects occur, your doctor may amend your hepatitis C treatment plan or change your medication dosage. Psychological counseling, symptom control, and alcohol avoidance are also recommended.

Resources

McHutchinson, J. G., Lawitz, E. J., Shiffman, M. L., Muir, A. J., Galler, G. W., McCone, J., …