We have been hearing a lot in the COVID-era about immune response. For some of us who make up the people who were diagnosed with hep C and have been around the block a time or two, it is probably familiar, this immune response thing. How our body mounts a defense against infection is our immune response to protect the body from an invading virus such as hep C or covid, to name two.
Antibodies and reinfections
If you have heard about antibodies, you get the idea. These antibodies are what our immune response does to either prevent infection or in the case of hep C, can successfully defeat the virus as part of the response. This is that 25% figure you have heard about, as being the approximate number of people who experience spontaneous clearance (destroying) the virus without treatment; Their immune response stops it from becoming what we call chronic hep C (CHC). The benefit of antibodies does not extend to future infection, meaning that re-infection can occur if you're exposed to hep C again.1
The differences between hepatitis C and COVID
As we have learned with covid, not all viral infections are equal. This is demonstrated in how researchers have created a covid vaccine, but a cure for hep C absent of a vaccine to prevent it. The vaccine for covid supports our immune response in preventing illness that is severe; This is not what treatment for hep C does. Hep C treatment is solely meant to disrupt the replication of new virus copies, which is what leads to the chronic condition we generally call “having hep C”. In the case of covid antibodies that are boosted by the vaccine, they can help prevent severe cases that require hospitalization and may lead to death. Antibodies for HCV, again, provide none of these protections of future hep C infection.1
With covid, we hear about the need for booster shots for some at least, and perhaps all of us eventually, but the jury is still out on when this will be necessary. People who have compromised immune response due to several reasons/conditions are more at risk from infection; Already we see them receiving a booster to maintain sufficient antibodies. There is work underway looking at a vaccine to prevent hep C, but it looks like we are still years away from having a safe and effective vaccine for HCV.1
Preventing hepatitis C infections
Taking steps to prevent exposure and subsequent infection is what we can do to prevent new hep C cases. Most new infections are from injection substance use when equipment is shared.2 New injection or smoking equipment is something we hope is available to all people who use injections or smoke. This one important piece in a bigger thing called harm reduction helps save lives from overdose as well. Secure housing, access to healthcare, safe substance supplies, and food security all play a role with a population who is at a heightened risk of contracting hep C today.
Whether our antibodies protect us or not, we can all take steps to be well and prevent new cases of hep C, because in time, without treatment, hep C can make us sick and, in too high numbers, can destroy quality of life and even kill. We can change that for ourselves with some help from others who are willing and wanting, indeed we can.
Have you been diagnosed with cirrhosis?