SAN ANTONIO -- It's a revolutionary time in Hepatitis C treatment, and local doctors are at the center of leading research.
After years of no answers, a pill could replace painful injections. The trial phase of the drug is being conducted at the Texas Liver Institute in downtown San Antonio. Patients like Danielle Real are finding relief.
"I was diagnosed in 1995," said Real, who thought she would have to live with the highly contagious liver disease for the rest of her life.
The only treatment used to be Interferon, which came with painful injections and severe side effects like body aches, hair loss and fatigue. Her chances of a cure were slim at best.
"So I just put it in the back of my head and just kept moving... never did anything about it," Real said.
"In fact, most people infected with Hepatitis C don't even know they have the infection," said Dr. Fred Poordad of the UT Health Science Center.
Dr. Poordad said five million Americans are living with the disease.
"We needed some safer therapies," he continued.
The doctor helped find it. He is on the research team that played a leading role in clinical trials conducted at the Texas Liver Institute.
"So Danielle was one of the recipients of this futuristic therapy -- just pills," he said.
Pills only, no injections and minimal side effects. Within the second week of taking the medication, there was no sign of Hepatitis C in Danielle's system. Her before and after photos show a dramatic change in her body. She lost several pounds.
"I just felt better because it was curing the virus," she said. Her energy sky-rocketed.
On Dec. 6, the FDA approved the new medication to treat Hepatitis C. Dr. Poordad is currently working on new combinations he hopes to have approved by next year.
"I lived in fear all the time," Real said. "I was always just afraid of what was gonna happen and how bad is my liver getting."
Her fear, she said, is gone thanks to the revolutionary treatment developed in San Antonio.
The most likely to be infected with the highly contagious liver disease were born between 1945 and 1965.
Researchers continue to enroll patients in a number of Hepatitis C trials. You can find out whether you are eligible to participate in the trials by calling toll-free 1-855-437-2267.