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Hepatitis Treatment

Medications that Treat Hepatitis B and C

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Updated November 16, 2008

The ultimate goal when treating any type of hepatitis is to limit the amount of liver tissue damage caused by the virus. By doing so, liver function can be preserved, and a person can remain healthy. Let's take a look at some therapies now in use to treat Hepatitis B and C.

Hepatitis B

Interferon
Interferons are special proteins our body makes to fight off infectious agents such as viruses. Interferon used to treat Hepatitis B is a genetically engineered form of natural interferons. Administered in an injection just under the skin, Interferon is given anywhere from one to three times per week. Those who benefit most from interferon are those patients with active Hepatitis B and active liver disease (indicated by elevated liver enzymes). Side effects include:
  • "flu-like" symptoms that usually resolve in 1-2 weeks
  • decreased appetite
  • muscle and body aches
  • headache
  • weight loss
  • insomnia
  • decreased white blood cell count
  • elevated liver enzymes
  • mood changes such as irritability and anxiety.

Detailed Information About Interferons

One Type of Interferon - Interferon Alfa

Lamivudine (Epivir HBV)
Epivir HBV treats Hepatitis B by blocking the virus's ability to multiply. This drug is given in a higher dose than given as part of an HIV regimen. The most common dose for Hepatitis B is one 100mg tablet each day. Patients remain on therapy for about 1 year. Side effects are rare but if they occur they include:

  • an inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  • numbness and tingling of the feet or hands.
One issue with Epivir is resistance. Studies have shown that after being on Epivir for long periods, typically more than a year, resistance to the drug can occur. Hepatitis virus mutations can occur, allowing for breakthrough hepatitis flares even while on therapy. For this reason therapy with Epivir is usually limited to one year.

More Information About Epivir HBV

Hepatitis C

Interferon and Pegylated Interferon
Interferons are special proteins our body makes to fight off infectious agents such as viruses. Interferon is a genetically engineered form of natural interferons that are given to fight Hepatitis C. Administered in an injection just under the skin, Interferon is given anywhere from one to three times per week. Those who benefit most from interferon are those patients with active Hepatitis C and active liver disease (indicated by elevated liver enzymes). The decision to treat is based on the likelihood of response and the likelihood of developing cirrhosis. Side effects include:
  • "flu-like" symptoms that usually resolve in 1-2 weeks
  • decreased appetite
  • muscle and body aches
  • headache
  • weight loss
  • insomnia
  • decreased white blood cell count
  • elevated liver enzymes
  • and mood changes such as irritability and anxiety.

A special type of interferon called pegylated interferon lasts longer and is tolerated better due to the binding of a polyethylene glycol molecule to interferon. Because it lasts longer, fewer doses have to be given to achieve the same affect.

More Information About Pegylated Interferon

Interferon / Ribavirin Combination (Rebetron)
Rebetron is a combination of interferon and the antiviral drug Ribavirin. Ribavirin is not effective in treating Hepatitis C alone, so it is used in combination with interferon. Rebetron is given in an injection three times per week. Side effects include all of those present with interferon as well as itching, rash, stomach pain, diarrhea, and anemia.

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