Nobel Prize for Hepatitis C Discovery

Three virologists from Canada, American, and Britain were recently awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for their 1989 discovery of hepatitis C, a virus that can cause severe liver disease and chronically infects more than 70 million people worldwide.   Although many associate hepatitis C with intravenous drug use, according to the CDC, more than 75 percent of adults currently living with hep C were born between 1945 and 1965; many of whom have no idea they are carrying the virus. 

Because testing for hepatitis C (HCV) was minimal in the 70s and 80s when the spread of the disease was at its peak, many older adults may have been infected without their knowledge.  Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which includes blood and organ donation that may have not received the same testing that is required today.  

The hepatitis C virus can lay dormant in the body for years, even decades, but it can still be passed on to others and can lead to chronic liver problems including cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, or liver failure.  The good news is that hepatitis C is now treatable with antiviral drugs and there is the hope of eradicating the disease entirely from the world’s population.  Recent research suggests the drugs developed to treat HCV may also be effective against the novel coronavirus.

According to the American Liver Foundation, 75 to 85 percent of people infected with HCV will develop the chronic version of the disease.  Older adults can ask their doctor to screen for a hepatitis infection with a blood test to check liver enzyme levels.  In addition to treating HCV with medication, patients should also avoid alcohol, get regular exercise, and eat a healthy diet rich in iron and protein while avoiding excess salt, sugar, and fatty foods.  Maintaining a healthy body weight can also help protect the liver.

Learn more about hepatitis C, its transmission, symptoms, testing, and treatment by following this link to the World Health Organization website.