DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband and I are in our 50s. Both of us had an exam this year from different doctors. Blood tests showed that we both have hepatitis C. Neither of us feels sick, and neither of us ever remembers acquiring this infection. Our doctors say we don’t need any treatment. What is the treatment if we ever do? Are we infectious to others? — K.K.
ANSWER: Hepatitis C infects around 3 million Americans. Around 70 percent to 80 percent will have a chronic infection. A sizable number will come down with liver cirrhosis or cancer, but that doesn’t happen right away. It takes 20 or more years before those complications arise.
When treatment of hepatitis C is advised, two medicines have been given simultaneously for many years. Those drugs are peginterferon and ribavirin. About 50 percent of chronic hepatitis C patients respond well to this regimen.
Two new drugs, telaprevir (Incivek) and boceprevir (Victrelis) have had a huge impact in improving treatment success. Either of these drugs, given in conjunction with the standard treatment of ribavirin and peginterferon, greatly increases the cure rates.
An initial sickness after acquiring hepatitis C virus is rare, and, that’s why you and your husband didn’t realize you were infected. The virus can be transmitted through blood transfusions (no longer a threat), sharing needles for drug injections, rarely through sexual relations and household contact, but more possibly through promiscuous sex and in ways yet to be determined. You’re not a threat to others.