Ribavirin still used for hep C–often to lower the treatment cost

Despite the demise of interferon, the debilitating drug that was used for two decades to treat hepatitis C, many patients must still deal with one component of the old treatment. Under the brand names CoPegus and Rebetol, ribavirin is sometimes prescribed in addition to direct-acting antivirals. Doctors most often prescribe it for difficult cases of hep C.

The difficult cases include patients with cirrhosis. Recent studies show that ribavirin combined with DAAs can reduce the length of treatment for many of these people (see Ribavirin: Past, present and future).

Ribavirin’s common side effects include anemia, insomnia and irritability. For some patients, the side-effects can be mild. Many doctors feel they are a small price to pay in exchange for big drug prices patients can’t afford. Twelve weeks of a DAA plus ribavirin instead of 24 weeks of a DAA alone could save a patient many tens of thousands of dollars. Ideally, patients and doctors shouldn’t have to think about that. But they do.

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