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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a recently discovered disease. Harvey J. Alter identified the variant form of Hepatitis during the 70s, which then became known as a ‘non-A, non-B Hepatitis (NANBH)’. In the 1980s, Michael Houghton and his team isolated the genome of the new virus, and it was named ‘Hepatitis C’. Finally, in 1997 Charles M. Rice proved that the virus is a disease agent, capable of acting alone to cause Hepatitis.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine has been jointly awarded to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of the virus. Their contributions (illustrated below) have led to improved understanding, prevention, and treatment of the disease.

 

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2020 to HJ Alter M Houghton and CM Rice for discovery of Hepatitis C virus

 

5 types of Hepatitis

There are five known types of viral Hepatitis – A, B, C, D, and E –  of which types A and B and E are currently preventable by vaccines.  Over 71 million cases of chronic Hepatitis C infection were estimated in 2015, though that number has been steadily falling over the past decade. The majority of deaths are caused by liver cancer or cirrhosis brought on by the infection, with an estimated 399,000 fatal cases in 2016.

To learn more about the differences between Hepatitis A, B, and C, see our earlier blog here.

Diagnosis and treatment

Hepatitis C can often be asymptomatic, or associated with mild symptoms, and may smolder for up to six months before becoming active. Acute infections are associated with fatigue, nausea, fever, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite; while chronic infections are more often associated with progressive dysfunction of the liver.

Although many laboratories are seeking an effective vaccine for this disease, currently available antiviral drugs have been shown to cure more than 95% of infections. 

The World Health Organization is approaching the end of its Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, 2016-2021 which has the vision of reducing new infections by 90% – and deaths by 65%- by 2030.

The universal presence of this disease demands a robust response from all health authorities across the globe,  and recognition given by the Nobel committee will raise the profile of the disease and encourage new avenues for research into Hepatitis C treatment and prevention.

 

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