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Health Beat: Wiping out hepatitis C

Health Beat: Wiping out hepatitis C

CLEVELAND - Some 3.2 million Americans are living with hepatitis C. It was once considered a death sentence, but now, new therapies are offering a cure for many.

Roger Warmuth loves spending time with his dogs, Stella and Teak.

"They help me get through the tough times," Warmuth said.

He's had some tough times to get through; 17 years ago he was diagnosed with hepatitis C – a virus that attacks the liver.

"It's given me cirrhosis. My symptoms include muscle aches and bone aches," Warmuth said.

Warmuth tried interferon therapy – an intense treatment that causes severe side effects and only works in less than half of patients.

"After going through all of this painful process of treatment, the odds were basically against them that they would not respond," said Dr. Nizar Zein, chief of hepatology and medical director of liver transplantation, Cleveland Clinic.

Now, there are new therapies that literally wipe out the infection. A class of drugs known as DAA targets the virus itself – not the immune system. They are oral drugs and are taken for three or six months. In clinical trials, as many as 90 percent of patients were cured of their virus.

"Going from a very toxic, highly ineffective therapy, to a highly tolerated, almost universally effective treatment," Zein said.

Warmuth will start the new drug in the next month. He's hoping it will wipe out his infection for good so he can focus on enjoying all the "warm" moments with his pups.

The most recently approved drug in this class – sofosbuvir – was approved in December 2013.

One downside: it's very expensive. Some quotes have put it at $84,000 for 12 weeks of treatment. Researchers and drug companies are working on ways to lower the price for patients. It can be used without interferon injections avoiding many side effects. The treatment is approved by some insurance nationwide.

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