Nobel Prize in Medicine: hepatitis C, a silent enemy that can be cured

The hepatitis C, caused by a virus that was discovered for the recent Nobel Prize in Medicine and that can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, it is a chronic infection for which there is currently a treatment that allows a cure, so extending the test is key, said a specialist.

“Hepatitis C is a chronic disease produced by a virus that rarely gives acute symptoms at the time of acquiring it but that will remain in 80 or 85 percent of the people who are infected and over the years can lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver “, described to Télam the infectious physician Elena Obieta, a member of the Argentine Society of Infectology (SADI).

Obieta, who is also Head of the Communicable and Emerging Diseases Service of the Municipality of San Isidro, pointed out that “the route of contagion of this disease is mainly blood; in effect, before these researchers could identify the virus, and thanks to this is to develop the tests, most of the infections were given from blood transfusions “.

“Today the virus is spread by sharing syringes, by medical practices with poorly sterilized implements, by tattoos and uncontrolled piercings and to a lesser extent by sexual means, especially in men who have sex with men and sometimes from mother to baby, although it is not transmitted through breast milk, “he described.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that in the world there are 71 million people with chronic infection by the hepatitis C virus; The agency estimated that in 2016 some 399,000 people died due to this hepatitis, mainly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (primary liver cancer).

Although there are no official data, it is estimated that in Argentina the prevalence is 2% and it is the most common cause of liver transplantation.

Obieta recalled that when she began to study medicine they spoke of “Hepatitis not A, not B” until it was possible to identify the virus that caused Hepatitis C, and indicated that “for many years we treated patients only with interferon, which it had side effects and less than 30% were cured. “

The infectologist described that “having known the viral genome, it was possible to develop treatments that are direct-acting antivirals that today allow cure; that is, a person taking one or two pills for 12 weeks, or another scheme depending on the case, manages to eliminate the virus and have a sustained undetectable viral load, that is, one looks for the virus and cannot find it again. “

“This does not mean that they cannot be reinfected, because we have had cases of reinfection, but it does mean that these treatments allow a cure and that the virus stops affecting the liver, and even other organs because this C virus can also generate other manifestations such as disorders in the kidney, in the skin, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, among others because it has a pro-inflammatory activity, “he said.

According to the WHO, these antiviral treatments “can cure more than 95% of cases (…), which reduces the risk of death from liver cancer and cirrhosis”; however, the agency warned that “access to diagnosis and treatment is limited.”

In this context, Obieta insisted on the importance of testing: “As the virus does not express itself until it causes a lot of damage, it is necessary to look for it; it is important that the hepatitis C test is incorporated into each routine blood test,” he said.

And he concluded: “If we can identify people who have the virus, it is possible to put them on treatment, even long before they have liver damage; this allows us to anticipate cirrhosis and liver cancer.”

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