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Lupus and Hepatitis C: Lupus Patients Should be Tested for Hepatitis C

The interactions of hepatitis C and systemic lupus is strange, and hepatitis C can mimic lupus … read on!

Hepatitis C is a virus that can attack the liver (called hepatitis) as well as numerous other organs of the body. Untreated hepatitis C infection can cause jaundice, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. However, the anti-viral drugs used to treat hepatitis C are miracle drugs, resulting in over 95% of infected individuals being cured with them.

The hepatitis C virus is most commonly transmitted through exposure to infected blood, most commonly by IV drug use, blood transfusions, and needles sticks. However, sexual contact, mother to fetus transmission, tattooing, and body piercing can also result in infections. The CDC recommends that all adults be tested for hepatitis C. In those with increased risk for infection (such as IV drug users), regular testing should be done.

Drugs used to treat hepatitis C include:

Glecaprevir, Grazoprevir, Paritaprevir, Simeprevir, Voxilaprevir, Daclatasvir, Elbasvir, Ledipasvir, Ombitasvir, Pibrentasvir, Velpatasvir, Sofosbuvir, and Dasabuvir.

Hepatitis C can also cause the immune system to become overactive. Hepatitis C infection can look exactly like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Hepatitis C infection can produce many of the same antibodies seen in SLE and cause many of the same problems, such as arthritis, rashes, vasculitis, kidney disease, and nerve problems. This is why rheumatologists usually test everyone that may have SLE for hepatitis C. Treating and curing the person of hepatitis C results in the lupus-like disease disappearing.

Since hepatitis C causes the immune system to become more active, if someone with SLE gets infected, their SLE can potentially become more active. Also, SLE patients have a higher chance of being infected with hepatitis C than the general population. This probably occurs due to their immune system, not being able to protect the person as well as it should. For unknown reasons, hepatitis B infections do not occur more commonly in SLE patients. All SLE adults should get tested for hepatitis C and undergo treatment if positive for an active infection.

Note that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that all “baby boomers” be tested for hepatitis C. Many baby boomers are infected and do not know that they have this curable infection.

For more in-depth information on hepatitis C and lupus:

Read chapter 22 of The Lupus Encyclopedia, edition 2

Look up your symptoms, conditions, and medications in the Index of The Lupus Encyclopedia

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​Reference: Mahroum N, Hejly A, Tiosano S, et al. Chronic hepatitis C viral infection among SLE patients: the significance of coexistence. Immunol Res. 2017;65(2):477-481. doi:10.1007/s12026-016-8886-7

Photo credit = Wikipedia and ​Blausen Medical Communications, Inc

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