Diagnosis of hepatitis C
Since the symptoms are often very uncharacteristic, the suspicion of hepatitis C infection is often coincidental in a blood test based on conspicuous liver enzymes. For further clarification various investigations can be carried out:
- With the help of the so-called ELISA test, antibodies to the hepatitis C virus can be detected 3 months after the infection. However, since the antibodies can still be in the body years or decades after the disease has been overcome, this is not a reliable indication.
- If antibodies to the hepatitis C virus have been found, the diagnosis must additionally be confirmed with a so-called PCR test. It enables direct detection of hepatitis C virus in the blood.
- Another investigation that is routinely performed is sonography. This is an ultrasound scan that gives initial clues about the condition of the liver.
- A liver biopsy can be used to clarify how serious the disease is.
Treatment of hepatitis C
In acute hepatitis, early, multi-week therapy with interferon-alpha can cure in almost all cases. Interferon-alpha is a naturally occurring glycoprotein (protein-sugar compound) that is formed by the human body to fight off foreign substances. In people with chronic viral hepatitis C, the body's own interferon production is probably not sufficient to successfully fend off the virus. Interferon therapy therefore supports the immune system in combating it.
For chronic hepatitis C, a combination treatment is used. The patient receives interferon-alpha in combination with ribavirin (antiviral drug) for several months. Depending on the severity of the disease, this therapy is successful in 50-80 percent of sufferers. In addition, the patient can contribute with his health-conscious behavior to the success of the therapy. This includes physical protection and the avoidance of substances that further damage the liver, eg alcohol and medication.
New approach to vaccination and therapy
Since not all patients respond to the combination treatment and there are often significant side effects, intensive research on effective vaccination protection. A Canadian research team succeeded now a partial success. The scientists infiltrate a protein of the virus into the so-called dendritic cells of mice. These key immune system cells alert the body to intruders. It succeeded in stimulating the immune system of the mice and triggering a targeted defense reaction.
The vaccinated animals were then much better able to cope with the virus infection. The vaccine could be used not only as a preventive measure, but also as an immunotherapy, according to the researchers of the Canadian University. * * The study was presented in the journal "Journal of Genral Virology" (Vol. 87, p. 1).