Scientists discover how hepatitis C ‘ghosts’ our immune system

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Scientists discover how hepatitis C ‘ghosts’ our immune system

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have discovered how the highly infectious and sometimes deadly hepatitis C virus (HCV) ‘ghosts’ our immune system and remains undiagnosed in many people.

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have discovered how the highly infectious and sometimes deadly Hepatitis C virus (HCV) “ghosts” our immune system and remains undiagnosed in many people. They report their findings today [Wednesday June 5th] in the international FASEB journal.

HCV’s main route of transmission is via infected blood but over the past 40 years it has accidentally been given to many patients across the world via infected blood products. The virus replicates particularly well in the liver, and the damage it causes makes it a leading cause of liver disease worldwide.

Even though HCV can be deadly, initial infection is rarely accompanied by any obvious clinical symptoms for reasons that have – until now – remained unknown. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed for the first 6-12 months following infection.

If left untreated HCV spreads throughout the liver, stimulating a low-level inflammatory response. Over several months, these mild responses – accompanied by subsequent liver repair – result in fibrotic scarring of the liver. The liver’s main job is to filter out toxins, but during HCV infection the build-up of fibrotic, non-functioning liver tissue, results in reduced liver function. Without a fully functioning liver, one major side-effect is the build-up of toxins, often referred to as “jaundice”. If patients do not realise they are infected with HCV, their first noticeable symptoms are the side-effects of liver fibrosis (such as jaundice).

While the majority of HCV infections are now treatable with new medicines, early detection would avoid the damaging progression to liver disease. Therefore, a group of scientists led by Assistant Professor in Immunology at Trinity, Nigel Stevenson, set out to understand how the virus avoids being discovered for months after infection.

Read on: Scientists discover how hepatitis C 'ghosts' our immune system

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