Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Lupus Patients Have Higher Rates of Hepatitis C, Study Finds

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that is spread through infected blood. The virus may not cause bodily symptoms, so some people can have hepatitis C for months or years without knowing it. Often, a positive test result occurs when the blood is tested for some other reason or when a patient reports risky behaviors to their medical provider who may then recommend testing. If left untreated for a significant period of time, hepatitis C can cause significant liver damage that can result in cirrhosis or the need for a transplant, as well as other symptoms including jaundice, weakness, exhaustion, and problems with digestion.

What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which there is a problem with a person’s immune system. Although this bodily system is intended to protect the body and attack illnesses such as viruses, germs, and bacteria, lupus causes the body to become confused and instead begin to attack itself. When this occurs, the body thinks there is a problem and creates antibodies to fight off the issue. Instead of there being an issue, however, the antibodies attack the healthy cells, causing damage to the body that results in feelings of pain or inflammation to the sufferer. Lupus is chronic, meaning that it lasts longer than six full weeks and that it may be lifelong. Lupus may occur constantly or may have sometimes be active and sometimes be dormant. This disease can cause damage to joints, skin, and/or to a person’s organs. It is currently unknown how a person becomes afflicted with lupus but many doctors believe that it is a combination of factors that are genetic, hormonal, and environmental. 90% of lupus cases occur in women, leading doctors to consider whether there are additional factors specific to the gender-based cells and traits as well.

Why Do Lupus Patients Have Higher Rates of Hepatitis C?

People with lupus are already living in a body that is fighting itself. In a healthy body, when a problem is discovered (such as exposure to the flu, for example), the body builds antibodies which immediately attack the problem and only the problem, leaving healthy cells alone and attacking the flu virus until it is defeated. The antibody attack is focused and strong and when the battle has been won, the body returns to a state of calm. In a body that has lupus, the antibodies think everything is a threat, so there are massive attacks occurring throughout the body. This weakens the immune system because it is always fighting, while also having a divided focus of attack. When any person is exposed to hepatitis C, their antibodies are likely to attack the virus. In fact, up to 25% of people who become infected with the virus are able to cure themselves. In patients with lupus, however, their immune system is so weak that they cannot fight as hard, thus causing them to be more likely to have the hepatitis C take root in their system.

I Have Hepatitis C, How Do I Avoid Getting Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It is not contagious through blood, sex, or contact with someone who has lupus. Having hepatitis C in no way suggests that a person will become afflicted with lupus. If you think you may have lupus due to symptoms you may be experiencing, you can discuss this with your doctor and together, you can find out what your symptoms may be attributed to.

I Have Lupus, How Do I Avoid Getting Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that is passed through blood. To avoid becoming infected, a person can minimize their risks of exposure by not engaging in IV drug use and by only getting pierced or tattooed in licensed shops where clean needles are used every single time. In addition, if encountering blood, a person can limit their risk of exposure by following universal precautions and not coming into contact with the blood until they are properly gowned and gloved. Lastly, a person’s risk can be limited by not sharing grooming items with anyone, specifically tooth brushes or razors, where small amounts of blood may be present. If you believe you have already been exposed to hepatitis C, you can discuss your experience with your doctor and find out whether you should be tested for the virus. Regardless of whether you have hepatitis C, it is important to discuss your lifestyle with your doctor so that you can find out how to take as many precautions as possible to minimize the risk of exposure to viruses and other illnesses.1-4

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Eder, L et al. "Damage In Lupus Patients—What Have We Learned So Far?". Lupus, vol 22, no. 12, 2013, pp. 1225-1231. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/0961203313492872.
  2. Giordano, Paola et al. "Lupus Anticoagulant, Anticardiolipin Antibodies And Hepatitis C Virus Infection In Thalassaemia". British Journal Of Haematology, vol 102, no. 4, 1998, pp. 903-906. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1046/j.1365-2141.1998.00853.x.
  3. Ho, Vincent et al. "Severe Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Induced By Antiviral Treatment For Hepatitis C". JCR: Journal Of Clinical Rheumatology, vol 14, no. 3, 2008, pp. 166-168. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/rhu.0b013e3181775e80.
  4. Niewold, Timothy B., and William I. Swedler. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Arising During Interferon-Alpha Therapy For Cryoglobulinemic Vasculitis Associated With Hepatitis C". Clinical Rheumatology, vol 24, no. 2, 2004, pp. 178-181. Springer Nature, doi:10.1007/s10067-004-1024-2.