Treatment basics for people living with Hep C
Basic information on hepatitis C treatment
- Treatment can cure hepatitis C
- Medications used to treat hepatitis C
- Preparing to start and stay on treatment
Treatment can cure hepatitis C
New hepatitis C treatments are very effective at curing the infection and work for most people. Everyone who has hepatitis C should talk to their doctor about their treatment options.
Medications used to treat hepatitis C
Treatment options for hepatitis C have changed a lot in the last few years. New drugs, called direct acting antivirals (DAAs), are now available. They are easier to take, have fewer side effects and are taken for a shorter time. Plus, they cure more people than older hepatitis C drugs. Research is ongoing and new drugs will keep being approved in Canada over the next few years.
The older standard treatment for hepatitis C was a combination of two medications: peg-interferon and ribavirin. Peg-interferon can cause bad side effects and is rarely used now. Ribavirin is still added to some treatments.
For more information about hepatitis C drugs, please see Chronic hepatitis C treatment combinations.
Preparing to start and stay on treatment
Treatment for hepatitis C is still a big step to take. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these questions while you think about treatment:
What genotype, or strain, of the virus do I have?
There are 6 different strains or genotypes of the hepatitis C virus. Genotype 1 is the most common in Canada. At present, medications treat specific genotypes. Your doctor will help you choose the best medication for your strain of hepatitis C.
How much liver injury do I have?
Generally, the more liver injury you have, the sooner you should take treatment. Your doctor will be able to tell you more about your liver after ordering more tests. Many financial support programs require your liver to have a certain level of injury before they will pay for treatment. This means you might have to wait awhile before you can start.
Will I be able to follow the pill schedule?
It’s important to stay on track with your pill taking. If you miss taking your hepatitis C pills, the medications may not work to cure you. And the virus may become resistant to treatment, meaning some drugs may not work as well if you need to be treated again.
Part of getting ready is setting up the supports you’ll need to stick to treatment. Your doctor or nurse can help you.
What if I use street drugs?
People who use street drugs have the right to be offered hepatitis C treatment. It is possible for people who use drugs to take treatment and be cured. Having social supports and a safe place to stay can help. Talk about your situation with a health worker you trust.
What if I am pregnant? What if I am planning to use my sperm or eggs to have a baby?
The hepatitis C drug ribavirin can cause severe birth defects and must not be taken during pregnancy, and both partners should not use ribavirin at least 6 months before trying to get pregnant. There is not a lot of information yet about the safety of newer treatments during pregnancy.
More questions for your doctor or nurse
- Do I have other health conditions that could affect my hepatitis C treatment?
- Will other medications or supplements, such as vitamins or herbal medicines, affect my treatment?
For more information, please see Getting ready for hepatitis C treatment.
Paying for treatment
Hepatitis C treatment is expensive. However, programs are available to help you pay for the medication, including private health insurance, drug company programs and publicly funded drug benefit programs. There are also programs run by the federal government for specific groups such as Inuit and First Nations people, people in the military, prisoners and people who got hepatitis C from a blood transfusion received between 1986 and 1990. A nurse or doctor can help you figure out if you qualify for treatment and if you can get financial support from any of these programs.
For more information, please see hepatitis C treatment coverage in your region.
Staying healthy before and after treatment
You might decide to not take treatment right away. You may need to wait to be eligible for funding programs. Some people, because liver injury happens slowly, prefer to wait. Learn more from your doctor or nurse about staying healthy while waiting for treatment.
After treatment, you need to continue to take care of your health and the health of your liver. This is true even if you are cured. Also, learn how to keep yourself and others safe from hepatitis C. Being cured doesn’t protect you from getting hepatitis C again in the future.
For more information on staying healthy, please see Living with hepatitis C.
For more information about keeping yourself and others safe, please see Prevention & Harm Reduction.