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Health Watch: World Hepatitis Day

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In 1992, doctors diagnosed Eric Neikrug with hepatitis C after decades of slightly elevated liver enzymes and increased exhaustion.

"I was looking at cirrhosis, liver transplant, and even dying from it," said Eric. The hepatitis C virus had been infecting and destroying his liver cells, going from smooth and healthy to scarred and stiff. Initial treatment didn't work.

"The number of deaths from hepatitis C is expected to increase from between 10,000 and 12,000 a year to about four times that to 40,000 or 50,000 a year between 2010-2020 unless we don't do something about it," said Dr. Douglas Dieterich, a gastroenterologist.

Now there's new hope. The FDA recently approved a new class of drugs called protease inhibitors. Adding the new drugs Victrelis and Incivek to the previous standard treatment, consisting of Pegylated Interferon plus Ribavirin, almost doubles the cure rate to 79 percent.

"This is a big deal. This is the beginning of the end for hepatitis C," said Dr. Dieterich.

To prevent the virus from spreading, protease inhibitors attack the enzymes that the virus needs to make copies of itself.

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Eric volunteered to test the new drug cocktail a couple of years ago. Now, an experimental sound wave scanner shows his liver has healed. Two weeks after the trial ended Eric had no detectable virus.

"And here I am now three years later, and still undetectable. I'm cured. I'm having fun. I'm hiking. I'm sailing, just enjoying being retired," said Eric.

As for other forms of the virus, vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and B. And one is currently being developed for hepatitis E.

Most people living with hepatitis are not aware of their infection, so getting screened is important if you're at high risk.

For information on hepatitis, visit:

Reported by Stephanie Stahl, CBS 3

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