Harvard Men's Health Watch

Hepatitis C treatment extends life

Successful treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection reduces death from all causes, not just those directly related to the liver, according to a study in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In a chronic infection, HCV takes up residence in the liver. This can lead to scarring (cirrhosis) and ups the risk for liver cancer and liver failure. Drug treatments aim to reduce viral activity to an undetectable level. The JAMA study focused on 530 people given a combination of drugs to suppress the HCV infection. In about a third of the participants, the virus reached an undetectable level. Compared with the people treated less successfully, the risk of death from any cause dropped from 26% to 9%.

It's important to establish the effectiveness of HCV treatment, considering that it requires up to a year of weekly injections and pills, with potential for serious psychological side effects (depression, anxiety, and irritability), anemia, and fatigue.

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