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Early treatment key to treat hepatitis C

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MONTREAL, Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Canadian researchers say patients who receive early treatment for hepatitis C within the first months following an infection, develop a rapid immune response.

The study, published in the Journal of Virology, said that early treatment can restore immune response against hepatitis C and help eliminate the virus rapidly. This discovery could contribute to the development of new treatments.

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Dr. Naglaa Shoukry and Dr. Julie Bruneau, affiliated to both the Research Center of the University of Montreal Hospital Center and the University of Montreal, said that about one-quarter of infected individuals eradicate the infection spontaneously, without treatment.

However, the majority develop persistent infection, a major cause of cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. The only approved treatment for hepatitis C is the antiviral drug pegylated interferon alpha. This drug is successful in only half of cases when administered during chronic infection. Success rates among those treated early after infection are about 90 percent.

In the study, researchers followed a group of intravenous drug users at high risk of hepatitis C infection before and immediately after exposure to hepatitis C. The findings show the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C -- particularly in marginalized populations such as IDUs and aboriginal populations, the researchers said.

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