The goal of HCV infection therapy is to slow or halt progression of fibrosis and prevent the development of advanced cirrhosis (Wilkins 2010).
Standard treatment for hepatitis C centers upon pegylated interferon plus ribavirin (PEG-IFN/RBV).
- Interferons occur naturally and help the immune system recognize and attack viruses. Pegylated interferon is a chemically altered interferon that remains active in the body for a long time and helps mount robust immunity against HCV.
- Ribavirin is an antiviral drug that interferes with viral replication.
- The combination of the two drugs is more effective than either alone.
During pegylated interferon plus ribavirin treatment, physicians routinely test levels of liver enzymes, HCV antibodies, and the virus itself in the bloodstream. Monitoring these levels can help measure the effectiveness of treatment and determine prognosis (Fort 2012; Munir 2010; Wilkins 2010).
This combination treatment is ineffective in over 40% of HCV patients, leaving these individuals to seek additional approaches to eradicate the virus and/or protect against its damaging effects. Moreover, the contraindications and severe side-effects associated with interferon (e.g., depression, anemia, leukopenia and sepsis) can make treatment challenging (Wilkins 2010; Alkhouri 2012).
Sustained virologic response is the surrogate marker to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. If HCV treatment is successful, the patient will achieve a sustained virologic response; this occurs when HCV RNA cannot be detected in serum 24 weeks after treatment ends (Alkhouri 2012).