TUESDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) -- A new treatment for difficult-to-treat hepatitis C has higher cure rates, takes less time and causes fewer side effects than the current therapy, new research finds.
When the new drug, sofosbuvir, is combined with the medication ribavirin, cure rates are as high as traditional therapy, which pairs ribavirin and pegylated interferon, the researchers say. But patients taking sofosbuvir -- a once-a-day pill -- are spared the severe side effects associated with interferon.
"This is an exciting time in which we are witnessing a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we treat hepatitis C," said researcher Dr. Ira Jacobson, chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
Many people with hepatitis C can't or won't use interferon, Jacobson said. Its side effects can include sleep problems, anxiety, irritability and depression as well as fatigue, headaches, fever and muscle aches.
Hepatitis C is a virus spread by infected blood during transfusions, injection drug use or sexual contact. Untreated hepatitis C can cause progressive liver disease, such as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
In one of two new studies involving sofosbuvir, researchers treated patients who hadn't responded to interferon treatment or couldn't take it because of other medical conditions.
Among patients for whom interferon was not an option, three months of the ribavirin-sofosbuvir combo resulted in a 78 percent cure rate.
For those who had not responded to interferon, 73 percent were cured after four months' treatment with ribavirin and sofosbuvir, the researchers found.
Side effects from sofosbuvir were generally mild and included fatigue, nausea, headache, insomnia, itching, anemia and dizziness.
Dr. David Bernstein, chief of the division of hepatology at N
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