Hepatitis C Treatment: The Good, the Bad and the Unknown

By

Beverly Campbell

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Hepatitis C: Following Medical Protocol

Linda, a licensed practical nurse, tells her story of how relaxed protocols may have led to hepatitis C.
Beverly Campbell

Beverly and her doctors knew she had hepatitis C in the early nineties, but she didn't start experiencing symptoms until several years later.

I found out I had hepatitis C through a letter from the Red Cross.

I had just donated blood and their screening test detected antibodies for the virus. That meant my immune system was reacting to the presence of the hepatitis C virus by producing these specific antibodies to fight back. This was in 1990. At that time, I honestly didn’t think too much of it and neither did my doctors. I didn’t feel sick.

The Unknown

Until it was identified by CDC investigators in 1989, all doctors knew about hepatitis C was that it wasn’t Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B. The common term to describe it was simply non-A, non-B Hepatitis. A year later, when I received that letter from the Red Cross, there were still a lot of unknowns.

Fortunately, it wasn’t until the late 90s that I began experiencing severe symptoms. I started to feel achy all over and felt depressed.  What finally sent me to the doctor was debilitating fatigue.  By 2001, my quality of life was compromised enough that when I found out about a clinical trial for a new treatment, I actively pursued it.

I didn’t know what the results of the treatment would be—no one did. It was frightening to be in the dark. The clinical trial seemed like the best bet, but a clinical trial is just that: a test case. How my body would respond to the treatment was just as uncertain as what would happen if I continued without treatment. But I had to do something. I was 57 years old and my youngest daughter was only 15; I didn’t want to miss a single second of her adolescence.

The Bad

The treatment involved taking oral medication (ribavirin and amantadine) every 12 hours and giving myself a shot (peginterferon) once a week.

They administered the first shot for me at the doctor’s office. An hour or so later, I was driving home and about to turn into my neighborhood when it felt like someone had swung an ax into my back. The pain took my breath away. I wasn’t expecting it at all; the doctor certainly hadn’t prepared me for such a reaction.

I managed to get home, drew a really hot bath, took some Tylenol and climbed into bed. It was a wakeup call. I thought, “if this is how it’s going to be, I’ll never make it.”

Beverly discusses how hepatitis C may not be as bad as you've heard.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 16, 2015

2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Fortunately, the pain never reached that level again, but the treatment was still grueling. I tried not to look at the list of potential side effects, not wanting to dwell on the possibility that the medicine would make me itch here or ache there. But I dealt with virtually everything listed: fever, chills, headache, skin problems and loss of appetite, among others.

The cognitive effects of the treatment were very challenging. My short-term memory was gone. I became paranoid and hypersensitive. Never before had I been so concerned with what other people were thinking about me.

I ended up stopping the treatment after six months. It wasn’t working. It was painful. And it actually did more harm than good. My viral load—the amount of the virus in my blood—had shot up from 300,000 to 1,500,000.

The Good

In early 2003, I started taking peginterferon and ribavirin again on another treatment plan—this time, the regime lasted 48 weeks. And right off the bat, my viral load dropped to undetectable levels. This time, thank goodness, the meds were clearly doing their job.

Now, that doesn’t mean the medicine was perfect; there were still side effects. But my doctor was able to prescribe something to help counter most every ailment. And on some level, it was comforting to know everything I was feeling was a temporary effect of the treatment. Eventually, it just became a matter of managing those side effects.

In the years since then, I haven’t needed to take any medication. I still have hepatitis C—the treatment didn’t get rid of it. But the virus doesn’t affect me much anymore. And throughout it all, my lifestyle hasn’t really changed.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Dec 22, 2014

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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