Until now there has been a highly effective vaccine for hepatitisInflammation to the liver with accompanying damage to liver cells. B but none for the hepatitis C virusA microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells.. Following work by researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in the USA antibodiesSpecial proteins in the blood that are produced in response to a specific antigen and play a key role in immunity and allergy. have been found that can prevent infectionInvasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. from the hep C virus.
Whilst treatments for hepatitis C can be effective, they are very expensive and have a number of significant side effects and in order to prevent a public health crisis due to rising cases of the virus, a vaccine is desperately needed. It is thought that in the USA and Europe alone up to 14 million people are now suffering from the condition with an additional 150,000 people being diagnosed each year.
The virus mutates very rapidly which is the reason that a vaccine has remained unreachable until now. The study on the antibodies, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that some antibodies are able to attach to the virus and neutralise their activity. This is welcome news to the World Health Organization (WHO) which estimates that nearly 3% of the human population is currently infected with the virus.
The researchers will now begin work on testing prototype vaccines although if you think you may already be at risk of infection click here for information on whether you should be tested for hepatitis.