Hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a treatment option for people suffering with the condition. 

Sofosbuvir is an oral antiviral drug used to prevent hepatitis C viral replication in infected cells. The aims of the treatment are to clear the virus from the blood to prevent progression of liver disease, and to prevent the transmission of the hepatitis C virus.

Although 15-20% of people infected with the hepatitis C virus naturally clear their infections within 6 months, the remainder develop chronic hepatitis which can be life-long.

Figures from 2012 suggest that around 160,000 people are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus in England. More than half of people with chronic hepatitis C do not know they are infected because they only have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all for a long period of time.

About 1 in 3 people infected with the hepatitis C virus will eventually develop liver cirrhosis, where normal liver tissue is replaced by scar tissue.

A small percentage of people with chronic hepatitis C and cirrhosis also develop liver cancer.

Dr Carole Longson, Director of the NICE Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said: “Hepatitis C is a major public health challenge. It is difficult to diagnose and each year there are many new infections.

“The problem is made worse because the potential side-effects of current treatments, such as interferon, which often needs to be given for a long period of time, mean that many people with the disease either don’t complete the full course, or are reluctant to seek treatment in the first place.

“New treatments, like sofosbuvir, can shorten the duration of interferon-based therapy and in some cases don’t need to be taken with interferon at all. This could potentially encourage more people to seek treatment.”

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. It is spread by contact with infected blood, for instance by using contaminated needles for injecting drugs or sharing razors or toothbrushes. The virus can cause inflammation of, and damage to the liver, preventing it from working properly.