Hepatitis Vaccine May Prevent Hepatitis C Transmission

March 1, 2011

The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a virus that mutates frequently, similar to how HIV mutates. For that reason hep c is most often treated with broad strokes—strengthening the immune system, general antivirals, etc.

Unfortunately, the best way to treat hep c is to prevent hepatitis c transmission, but the world over (even in the US) bad hygiene practices such as people (including nurses) contaminating then reusing needles, make the very preventable transmission of hepatitis c an epidemic of a problem. That’s why researchers have been working on a hepatitis vaccine—but first they had to overcome the problem of the virus’s frequent mutations.

Most vaccines work by teaching the body the shape of the virus, so when it invades the immune system is ready with an appropriately fitted antibody. If the shape of the virus changes, the vaccine becomes outdated very quickly (for instance, the flu vaccine has to be updated yearly). As with HIV, hep c has exterior mutations, making a hepatitis vaccine very difficult.

To solve this problem, researchers are developing a hepatitis vaccine that teaches the body more about HCV, teaching it to recognize hep c by its internal structure (giving the body enough information that even if there are slight internal changes to the hep c virus the body will still recognize it).

The vaccine will be most useful in third world countries where tattooing, poor medical protocol, and lack of condoms result in high rates of hepatitis c transmission.

What do you think? Is the Hepatitis Vaccine worth the risks associated with vaccines?—should it be used by those most at risk (in third world countries, or American opt-ins), or is it superfluous, and we should focus more on preventing hepatitis c transmission by teaching about (medical) hygiene and safe sexual practices? Share your opinion in the comments!

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