"Ideally, you'd like drug regimens without ribavirin," Saag said. The good news, he added, is that those are on the way.
Between 50 and 60 new hepatitis C drugs are currently in the pipeline, Saag said, and a couple are already under review by the FDA. One is sofosbuvir: In a recent trial, researchers found that sofosbuvir, along with ribavirin, cured about three-quarters of patients with genotype 2 or 3 hepatitis C.
But Saag predicted that in the next year or two, there will be oral drug regimens that bypass interferon and ribavirin altogether.
"There should be a lot of new options for hepatitis C patients in the next couple years," he said. These new findings, Saag added, "are an important step. But they are not the final step."
In the United States, an estimated 3.2 million people are living with chronic hepatitis C -- most of whom do not know it. Because of that, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that baby boomers (people born between 1945 and 1965) be tested for the virus.
Injection drug abuse is now the top risk factor. But people who had a blood transfusion before 1992 are also at risk, because that predated widespread hepatitis C screening. In a small number of cases, the virus is transmitted during sex.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on hepatitis C.
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