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Hepatitis C Treatment and Your Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Typically, treatment for chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection includes antiviral medications, which help your body clear the infection. The doctor may prescribe one medication or a combination of two or three medications, depending on your medical situation and health history.

While there have been studies examining general hepatitis C infection as a possible risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease (PD), new research shows that treatment with interferon-based antivirals for chronic HCV is associated with a lower incidence of PD. While more research needs to be done, here’s what you should know.

Treatment for hepatitis C

Treatment for hepatitis C is often prescribed by a specialist who focuses on treating those who have been diagnosed with HCV. This can include a hepatologist, or doctor who specializes in liver diseases, an infectious disease specialist, a nurse practitioner specializing in liver diseases, or a gastroenterologist, who specializes in treating stomach and intestinal diseases.

Acute versus chronic HCV

For acute (or short-term) HCV prescription treatment may not be necessary; in this case, sometimes doctors just recommend bed rest, avoiding alcohol, lots of fluids, and healthy eating, along with regular blood workups to monitor the infection. For more chronic (long-term) HCV infections, which means you’ve been infected for 6 months or longer, treatment is often more involved, and usually consists of one or more medications. Some older treatments included interferon or interferon-based medications. Specific medications are chosen based on your current medications you may be taking, your HCV genotype, and your medical history. The length of treatments can vary, but it’s generally between 6 and 24 weeks.

Hep C treatment and Parkinson’s Disease

A new study looked at the long-term effects of an interferon-based antiviral treatment for HCV (a combination of pegylated interferon a-2b and ribavirin) and the associated reduced incidence of PD in those patients.1

This could mean several things, (and more research needs to be done to explore this):1,2

  • These results could suggest that hep C infection is a risk factor for later development of Parkinson’s Disease, and that this antiviral therapy reduces the risk of developing PD.
  • The results could also suggest that interferon-based antiviral therapy has some sort of direct protection from against PD.

More research needs to be done, but it is thought that because the medications are given for such a short amount of time, the direct protective quality is less likely.1

HCV, PD, and the brain

In looking at the lowered incidence of PD, this could be because of the clearance of the hep C virus from the body. HCV affects certain neurons in the brain, with a potential neurotoxic effect on cells. For patients with hep C, the blood-brain barrier may be compromised, and with the neurotoxic effects plus HCV-related inflammation, this may further affect brain cells.1 Interferon, however, is able to travel over the blood-brain barrier, reducing central nervous system damage caused by HCV.1

What this means for patients

Although the incidence was reduced in those with HCV who had interferon-based therapy, patients who get this therapy still develop PD. The reasons why people get PD can be complicated and varied, and HCV is only one factor. Scientists who looked at the antiviral study also wondered whether the patients who ended up developing PD after having antiviral therapy actually started the treatment while in the premotor stage, when symptoms aren’t clear enough to be diagnosed as PD. Once HCV passes the blood-brain barrier, the interferon antiviral therapy wouldn’t be as effective in treating the PD.

Talk to your doctor

If you have questions about this study and what it may mean for you and your risk of PD, talk with your doctor about it. They will be able to provide you information based on your own health history, risk factors, family history, and their professional experience.

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. Lin W-Y, Lin M-S, Weng Y-H, et al. Association of antiviral therapy with risk of Parkinson disease in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection. JAMA Neurology. 2019. Doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.1368. Accessed June 14, 2019.
  2. Parkinson Disease Incidence Lower in Hep C Patients Who Receive Antivirals. Physician’s Weekly. Published June 6, 2019. Accessed June 14, 2019.