updated 5/13/2011 5:07:20 PM ET 2011-05-13T21:07:20

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first new treatment for hepatitis C in 20 years.

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The first-of-its-kind pill, called Victrelis, has been shown to cure more patients in less time than the older drugs now used. It's made by Merck.

About 3.2 million people in the U.S. have Hepatitis C, which is linked to 12,000 deaths a year.

The current two-drug treatment for the virus cures only about 40 percent of people and causes side effects like nausea, fatigue and vomiting.

Merck's drug has been shown to boost cure rates to between 60 and 65 percent when added to the older drugs.

It works by blocking an enzyme that helps hepatitis reproduce. It differs from the older medications that boost the immune system.

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