Quick Treatment Can Cure
Hepatitis C By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Filed at 10:01
October 1, 2001
BOSTON (AP) -- Quick treatment after infection can
almost always cure hepatitis C, a condition that causes
between 8,000 and 10,000 deaths in the United States
each year, according to a study released Monday.
The study found that the medicine, interferon A, can
eliminate all traces of the virus, but it must be given
soon after the earliest symptoms of the virus appear.
The approach may have limited practical effect,
because early-stage infection is hard to spot. Most
people do not immediately realize they have caught the
virus, because the initial symptoms are often mild
flu-like ills, such as muscle ache and poor appetite.
However, for those who begin treatment within two or
three months of contracting hepatitis C, the treatment
appears to be virtually 100 percent effective in getting
rid of the virus.
``This study may make people aware of how important
it is to diagnose hepatitis C,'' said Dr. Michael P.
Manns, a co-author of the study at Hannover Medical
School in Germany.
Treatment now often begins after people have carried
the virus for many years. The standard in those cases is
a combination of interferon A and the antiviral drug
ribavirin, which eliminate the virus about half the
In an effort to see if earlier treatment would work
better, the researchers asked physicians to be alert for
early cases and enroll patients in the study. Doctors at
24 hospitals in Germany identified 44 cases this way.
``If somebody is indeed diagnosed with hepatitis C,
this is important,'' said Dr. Adrian Di Bisceglie,
medical director of the American Liver Foundation. ``It
says if you treat them early enough, you get rid of the
infection in everybody, and that's fairly dramatic.''
The results are scheduled to be published in the Nov.
15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Because
of their importance, the results were released Monday on
the journal's Web site.
The study was financed by Essex-Pharma, which makes
Hepatitis C is usually spread by contact with
infected blood. In the latest study, most of the
patients caught it through drug abuse, accidental needle
jabs in hospitals or surgery.
They started therapy within an average of 89 days of
catching hepatitis C. The patients received daily
interferon injections for four weeks, then three times a
week for 20 more weeks. Forty-eight weeks after the
study began, the virus was undetectable in all but one
About 4 million people in the United States and 170
million worldwide are estimated to be infected with
hepatitis C. The infection has become much less common
since 1991, when blood banks began screening for the
virus. Still, hepatitis C infection is the leading cause
of chronic liver disease in the United States and the
most frequent reason for liver transplants.
Leslie Johnson, a researcher at the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimated
that about 15,000 Americans will catch hepatitis C this
year. Sixty percent with be injection drug abusers.
Medical Editor Daniel Q. Haney is a special
correspondent for The Associated Press.
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