Hepatitis C is an infectious, viral liver disease which is the most common blood-borne disease in the U.S. Mostly, people with this disease don’t even realize that they have it.
Hepatitis C is a virus which can infect the liver cells of your body. The virus can infect you if you come into contact with an infected person’s blood. If left untreated, it can cause serious and possibly life-threatening harm to the liver after many years.
But, with recent treatments, it is usually possible to cure the infection. Therefore, most of the people with it will have a normal life expectancy. It’s assessed that about 215,000 people in the UK have hepatitis C.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
Often, hepatitis C doesn’t have any obvious symptoms until the liver has been knowingly damaged. It means that many people have the infection without even realizing it. Moreover, its symptoms can also be mistaken for any other disorder. Symptoms can include;
- flu-like symptoms, like muscle aches and a high temperature (fever)
- feeling tired all the time
- loss of appetite
- abdominal pain
- feeling and being sick
The only way to know if these symptoms are caused by hepatitis C is to get properly tested. In addition to hepatitis C, hepatitis A, B, and D all are types of viral illness which can affect the liver. Whereas vaccines exist for only hepatitis A and B and currently there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C.
Researchers are working on it, but different challenges specific to hepatitis C have generally made causing the difficulty in vaccine development.
The available hepatitis C treatments can often cure the disease. But these medicines can be costly and may take weeks of treatment. A hepatitis C vaccine could help prevent the transmission of the virus and liver damage.
Vaccine development for Hepatitis C
Though there is presently no hepatitis C vaccine available, but there are 2 clinical trials ongoing.
Hepatitis C virus was discovered by the researchers in the late 1980s, and they were first able to grow it in 2005 as a cell culture. Researchers, before this, could not study how medicines or vaccines might alter the virus.
The hepatitis C virus features seven genotypes. These genotypes can differ from each other by as much as 70%. Moreover, the virus mutates easily. Thus, making it much difficult for the immune system to sustain.
Along with these challenges, researchers have to identify an appropriate animal model on which the effectiveness of a vaccine can be tested. Efforts for developing a hepatitis C vaccine started around 25 years ago when this virus was recognized. Since then, researchers have considered more than 20 possible vaccines in animals.
To test how vaccinations might work in humans, researchers have used chimpanzees and rodents. However, the immune systems of these animals can clear the virus often. This creates confusion that whether the vaccine or the natural immunity of animal produced these results.
Vaccines take some time and also require considerable testing before making them publicly available. Furthermore, they must prove operative for a majority of people before the marketing of the company.
Currently, there are two clinical trials of hepatitis C vaccines which are proceeding. Each of the trials uses a different methodology to prevent the transmission of hepatitis C.
clinical trials for vaccine
Some of these vaccines have undergone inadequate testing in individuals. The following are the underway clinical trials to find out whether these vaccines are safe and operative in people.
• Therapeutic vaccine trial; in this trial, the study population consists of individuals who already have chronic hepatitis C. The basic purpose of this trial is to govern whether each vaccine is safe and effective at reducing hepatitis C in participants’ blood. However, completion of this trial is expected to be in 2020.
• Prophylactic (preventive) vaccine trial; it involves people at high risk of becoming infected with the hepatitis C virus. The basic purpose of this trial is to determine the safety of the 2 vaccines. Furthermore, it also helps to find out whether participants receiving either vaccine are less probable to become infected with the hepatitis C virus over a 6 month period as compared to participants who are receiving a placebo vaccine. This trial has also enrolled a large sample of participants. It ends in July 2018.
In case of good results from these trials, larger trials will still be required to verify it and determine the best way to use the vaccine.
Currently, doctors prescribe direct-acting antiretrovirals for the treatment of the hepatitis C virus. They prescribe a number of medicines to treat it. These medications are called direct-acting antiretrovirals. Their main purpose of working is to stop the hepatitis C virus from duplicating and finally destroy it.
However, as there are several genotypes of this virus, not all treatments work for everyone. A proper test should be conducted to determine which treatment is probable to be the most effective.
Sometimes, more than one treatment is needed to cure hepatitis C which is also very expensive in some instances. Further, each treatment may take 8–12 weeks to work. Along with medication, consultants may also recommend different ways to reduce demands on the liver, like avoiding alcohol and abstaining from taking certain drugs, if possible.
Though many treatments are obtainable for hepatitis C, a vaccine has the potential to relieve the burden of the disease worldwide. For this, finding an effective vaccine remains a priority.
Preventing transmission of the virus
A hepatitis C is transmitted from blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual. The most common way of viral transmission is sharing the needles used for the intravenous drug.
However, before 1992, doctors did not normally test the blood supply in the U.S. for hepatitis C. Therefore, many people may have developed this disease from blood transfusions. People can also get this disease from sex, but this is less common. Following points should be kept in mind to prevent hepatitis C;
- Never share any kind of needle. Even glucose testing supplies should not be shared.
- Make sure that tattoo and piercing should be done in a sterile condition, with fresh needles and strict measures to protect against contagion.
- If an individual is not in a married relationship in which both are hepatitis C-negative, use condoms properly and regularly.
- Strictly follow infection prevention practices in a healthcare setting, like wearing gloves and discarding used needles.
- Bleach solution should always be used for cleansing dried blood. An exposure to dried blood containing the virus can also cause the development of hepatitis C.
- Refrain from sharing personal care objects which may have blood on them, like a toothbrush or razor.
Any person who may have had blood-to-blood contact with a hepatitis C individual should ask a doctor about proper testing.