Since late 2014 and approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, several medicines have offered sufferers the hope for chronic hepatitis C treatments not relying the use of interferon.
The side effects of interferon in treating hepatitis C are rarely life threatening, and most hepatitis C patients tolerate dosing well. The elderly and young children with hepatitis C, however, may experience more side effects, or side effects of greater severity.
Some hepatitis C patients can expect flu-like symptoms within six to eight hours after interferon administration, with symptoms more evident after the first couple of doses. These symptoms include fever, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, chills, headaches, muscle aches (myalgia), and joint pain.
Days later, chronic hepatitis C patients in treatment may experience a worsening of tiredness, weakness, and even changes in thinking or comprehension. As many as 15 percent of hepatitis C sufferers will find these changes intolerable and discontinue treatment. The higher the dose of interferon, the more likely this is to happen.
At about 3 million units (MU), hepatitis C treatment with interferon is tolerable. Above 5 or 6 MU, doctors begin to notice higher rates of adverse side effects among hepatitis C patients. Because interferon crosses the blood-brain barrier, these effects on hepatitis C sufferers are largely nervous system-related or psychiatric, and include irritability, confusion, withdrawal, and depression. At any dose, the most frequently reported side effects among hepatitis C test subjects were headache, tiredness, fever, muscle stiffness and generalized aches and pains.
More recently, research into antivirals offers greater hope for a chronic hepatitis C cure with fewer side effects. These antivirals include Sofosbuvir and Simeprevir. Beyond these two hepatitis C antivirals, even more rapid-release antiviral therapies are in the pharmaceutical pipeline.
In fact, beyond FDA approval, the only things holding back wider use of these hepatitis C antivirals is cost. In many parts of the world, where chronic hepatitis C is almost endemic, these drugs are enormously unaffordable.