The Nova Scotia Health Authority in Canada is leading a hepatitis C study at the Prince Edward Island's (PEI) provincial correctional center. Hepatitis C is an RNA virus that mutates quickly. It affects about 2.7 million people in the United States (CDC
). Ongoing infection with hepatitis C majorly contributes to chronic liver disease. Hepatitis C can be cured, but there's no vaccine to prevent infection. Thus, people cannot prevent ever getting the viral infection in the first place OR protect themselves from contracting the virus a second time after being cured.
The PEI study is utilizing the highly successful new direct-acting antiviral hepatitis C drugs (90-97% cure sucess) in a correctional facility that has a 23% infection rate of hepatitis C. The study's goals are twofold; scientists plan to reduce the prevalence of hepatitis C infections in the facility as well as see how the the new medication protects patients against reinfection. The new drugs have few side effects and can be taken orally, making them much better candidates for use in correctional facitlities than previous treatments, which were "given intravenously over long periods of time, with side effects including pain, fatigue and low blood counts" (Medical Xpress
Ongoing research focused on providing a vaccine for hepatitis C continues and was discussed in an August journal article in Current Opinion in Immunology.
Since hepatitis C largely contributes to chronic liver disease, the goal of hepatitis C vaccine research is specifically preventing recurring infections, rather than to "induce sterilizing immunity" (Current Opinion in Immunology
). Decreasing the overall burden of chronic liver disease is a priority.
Current potential vaccines undergoing clinical trials include:
- non-structural hepatitis C viral proteins that induce CD8+ T cell immunity
- recombinant hepatitis C viral envelope proteins that are targeted by neutralizing antibodies
Curing and then preventing future hepatitis C infections with a vaccine will be especially important for individuals in high-risk populations, like in the Canadian correctional facility. Although the role of antibodies verus T cells in providing the most protective immunity is still intensely debated, ongoing research will soon tell if developing a vaccine for hepatitis C is possible. Even more, initiatives like the PEI study could help determine whether the new direct-acting antiviral agents make T cell immunity more or less possible in preventing against hepatitis C infections.
Check out the video below to learn more about the pathology of a hepatitis C infection.
Source: Medical Xpress