In an interview with People magazine this week, Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson announced that she will begin treatment for Hepatitis C. Diagnosed with the viral infection almost 16 years ago, she contracted the potentially fatal liver disease by sharing a tattoo needle with rocker/ex-husband Tommy Lee. The 48-year-old made her diagnosis public in 2002. After experimenting with some alternative medications, Anderson is now ready to try a newly FDA-approved drug, sofosbuvir (Harvoni®) in the hope that “I could be Hep C free within the month.”
“I’m very fortunate that I’ve had Hep C for about 16 years. Sixteen years ago that was [presented to me] as a death sentence. I think it really worked on my self esteem. Even though I may have looked confident on the outside, I think it really was a dark cloud that lingered over me.”
“I don’t have any liver damage and I don’t have any side effects. I’m living my life the way I want to but it could have eventually have caused me some problems and so it was a real blessing that I was able to get the medicine. I’m half way there.”
“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.
Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.
Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”
Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.
Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
In 2013, there were an estimated 29,718 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections reported in the United States. An estimated 2.7 million persons in the United States have chronic hepatitis C virus infection. Most people do not know they are infected because they don’t look or feel sick. Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.
Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.
People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as
Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through
For more general information about Hepatitis C, check out our story about Steven Tyler.
The treatment for Hepatitis C has changed dramatically over the past few years. In the past, patients have been treated with the antiviral medications interferon and ribavirin. Interferon is a medicine that helps your body’s immune system to attack infected liver cells and to protect healthy liver cells from new infection. Pegylated interferon is taken by injection once a week. Ribavirin is a medicine that can fight certain viruses, though, by itself, it does not work against hepatitis C. It is taken in pill form and in combination with pegylated interferon.
More recently, additional testing is done to determine the Hepatitis C’s genotype. A genotype is a classification of a virus based on the genetic material in the RNA (Ribonucleic acid) strands of the virus. Patients with Hepatitis C are divided into one of six genotypes (1-6). Genotype 1 is the most common type in the US. Researchers have found that different genotypes can be treated with different types of medications.
This lead to the development of Sofosbuvir, which was approved by the FDA in 2013. It works directly on the hepatitis C virus itself to stop it from replicating. It can be taken with any genotype of hepatitis C. It was initially approved to be used along with IV interferon.
In 2014, Harvoni, a combination of sofobuvir and ledipasvir, a once-a-day oral medication, was approved for the treatment of patients with genotype 1 Hepatitis C. In clinical studies, 96-99% of patients who had no prior treatment were cured with just 12 weeks of therapy with Harvoni. Being cured is defined as the Hep C virus not being detected in the blood when measured three months after treatment is completed. The most common side effects are fatigue and headache.
For more complete information about Harvoni, click here for the FDA information sheet.
For patients with other Hep C genotypes, new medications have been approved in 2015:
Daklinza (daclatasvir), was approved in July for use with sofosbuvir as the first 12-week, all-oral treatment option for patients with chronic hepatitis C virus genotype 3.
Technivie (ombitasvir, paritaprevir and ritonavir) is used in combination with ribavirin for the treatment of HCV genotype 4 infections in patients that do not have scarring and poor liver function (cirrhosis). Technivie is the first drug approved to treat genotype 4 HCV infection without interferon.