Chronic Hepatitis C is Curable
Zhang Zhi-Hao, attending doctor of the Gastroenterology Department in Zhongxiao Branch of the Taipei City Hospital, says that 170 million people, 3% of the world population, carry the Hepatitis C virus, and the prevalence is about 2-4% among adults in Taiwan, with about 300-500 thousand Taiwanese infected. The main routes of transmission are blood and body fluid. In the early years, many Taiwanese were infected with hepatitis C virus owing to the transfusion of blood or blood products. Since July 1992, the Taiwan Blood Services Foundation has adopted new blood screening methods, so the chance of being infected with hepatitis C through blood transfusion is less than 0.01%.Among the patients with acute hepatitis C, 15-40% can be self-healed and 60-85% will evolve into chronic hepatitis C, among which 20% will turn into liver cirrhosis in 20 years. About 1-4% of liver cirrhosis will develop into liver cancer every year and 4-5% experience liver function decompensation.Interferon (single therapy) was the only drug approved to treat hepatitis C infection before 1998, whose success rate was about 13-19%. Nowadays, the standard treatment for Hepatitis C is to combine pegylated interferon with ribavirin. The cure rates are as high as 50-80% after a treatment period of 16 weeks to one and a half years, depending on genotypes and viral loads. Zhang Zhi-Hao reminds the public that frequent follow-up visits and drug therapy can cure hepatitis C.