Medical Minute 9-15: Treating Hepatitis C

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

Rhonda Gilbert loves to cook for hours, but until just a few months ago, she couldn't stand for more than a few minutes.

"I would walk down the block, and I would get so exhausted, I would have to sit down," said Rhonda Gilbert.

For more than a decade, Gilbert lived with persistent fatigue. It's one of the most common symptoms for people infected with the Hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C enters the bloodstream and attacks the liver. It can be introduced into the body during intravenous drug use, or before 1990, during a blood transfusion.

Rhonda Gilbert needed a transfusion in 1972 after a tonsillectomy. Her doctors believe the virus has been attacking her body since then. Doctors say until now, the standard treatment for Hepatitis C has been a weekly injection of interferon and a pill taken twice daily called ribavirin. This treatment works in about half the patients.

Doctor Stuart Gordon is an expert in liver disease. He's been tracking the results when a third drug is added to the mix. Boceprevir is a protease inhibitor -- meaning it works by blocking the virus's ability to replicate.

"We've looked in liver tissue and blood cells and followed up with these patients years later. The virus is still gone. That's as close to a cure as you're going to get," said Stuart Gordon, M.D., Director of Hepatology, Henry Ford Health System Detroit, MI.

Rhonda Gilbert was treated with the three-drug cocktail in 2009. The virus is now gone, and Gilbert's energy is back for the first time in almost 20 years.


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