Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection causes liver inflammation that can lead to liver problems, including cancer. People who have chronic hepatitis C need medication to treat it. These drugs can help ease symptoms.Even if an HCV infection hasn’t caused symptoms yet, it’s still important to treat it. This is because drugs can also lower the risk of complications from hepatitis C, such as dangerous liver problems.
HCV has different genetic variations (genotypes). The medication prescribed for hepatitis C depends on the genotype a person has. Genotype 1 is the most common type in the United States.Here are the medications available to treat hepatitis C, plus some helpful information about what to expect with their treatment.
Ribavirin works by stopping viruses from replicating and spreading. It’s an oral medication that comes as a capsule or tablet and is available in several strengths.It’s always used in combination with other drugs to treat hepatitis C. The most common brand name of ribavirin is Rebetol.
Ribavirin may cause birth defects if it’s taken during pregnancy. It can also cause birth defects if a child is conceived while the father is receiving treatment with this drug.
Other side effects may include:
nausea and vomiting
changes in your ability to taste
Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs)
Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) are currently the standard of care for chronic HCV infection. These drugs work by attacking HCV directly.This means they’re more targeted than older treatments such as interferons (see below).Also, they don’t affect as many systems in your body as interferons, so they may not cause as many side effects. All DAAs are oral drugs.
Side effects of DAAs can include:
Protease inhibitor antiviral medications (NS3/4A inhibitors)
Protease inhibitors work by preventing the spread of infection within the body by stopping viruses from multiplying.Grazoprevir is a protease inhibitor for hepatitis C genotypes 1 and 4. It’s only available in combination with elbasvir and sold as grazoprevir/elbasvir.The drug combination is sold under the brand name Zepatier.
Protease inhibitors (NS5A inhibitors)
The action of these drugs isn’t fully understood. They may work by stopping the virus from copying itself. They may also help prevent drug resistance (when a drug no longer works to treat a condition).These drugs are used to treat all HCV genotypes. They’re used alone or in combination with other medications.
Examples of directed inhibitors include ledipasvir, a component of the combination drug Harvoni and elbasvir, a component of the combination drug Zepatier.
Nucleotide/nucleoside and non-nucleoside polymerase inhibitors (NS5B inhibitors)
These drugs work by blocking a protein called NS5B. The hepatitis C virus needs this protein to replicate itself and survive.Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) is an example of an NS5B inhibitor.