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Are the Epstein-Barr and Hepatitis C Viruses Linked?

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What do the Epstein-Barr virus and Hepatitis C virus have in common? Not very much that will impact anyone with either condition; however, their connection could guide future research to eventually find a Hepatitis C cure.

Describing completely different illnesses, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) are worlds apart. With different modes of acquisition that have different presentations and effect different body systems, Epstein-Barr and Hepatitis C appear to be pathogens with nothing in common. Though, new research changes this perception.

About HCV

Affecting an estimated four to five million people in the United States, the chronic version of Hepatitis C is emerging as a significant public health problem. Approximately 80 percent of those who have been exposed to the virus are unable to clear it from their body – and they develop chronic Hepatitis C.

In its early stages, Hepatitis C usually produces no symptoms. When they do occur, symptoms are generally mild and flu-like, and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Liver area tenderness

Although it has been detected in cells in various places of the body, Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver. Typically acquired via contaminated needles, Hepatitis C is transmitted via blood-to-blood contact.

The current standard of therapy for treating HCV is only able to eliminate the virus in about half of those with the most common type of Hepatitis C in the U.S. For those who are unsuccessful in eliminating the virus, HCV can progress to advanced liver disease. In America, Hepatitis C is the leading cause for liver transplants – the only curative therapy for end stage liver disease.

About EBV

One of the most common human viruses, the Epstein-Barr virus is a member of the herpes family and currently infects more than 95 percent of the world’s population. There are various presentations of EBV, with the most common manifestation being acute infectious mononucleosis, a self-limited illness that frequently affects adolescents and young adults. Casually referred to as mono, infectious mononucleosis symptoms typically include sore throat, fever and swollen lymph nodes. Children can also be infected by EBV, but their infection is usually asymptomatic or mild. Additionally, Epstein-Barr is a known tumor virus associated with several relatively rare cancers such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma and Burkitt lymphoma.

A contagious illness, Epstein-Barr is believed to be spread by infectious saliva and targets cells in the throat, blood and immune system. In most cases of EBV, no specific treatment is indicated aside from bed rest and drinking lots of fluids. Although the symptoms of infectious mononucleosis usually resolve in one or two months, EBV remains dormant in a few cells in the throat and blood for the rest of the person’s life. Periodically, the virus can reactivate and is commonly found in the saliva of infected persons. This reactivation usually occurs without symptoms of illness.

The HCV – EBV Connection

Despite their differences, research has demonstrated a unique connection between the Hepatitis C and Epstein-Barr viruses.

  • As published in an October 1999 edition of The EMBO Journal, Japanese researchers observed that the Epstein-Barr virus was detected in 37 percent of the tissues of hepatocellular carcinoma examined, and was especially frequent in cases with HCV. Upon further analysis, they surmised that EBV acts as a helper virus for HCV replication.
  • As published in an advanced online edition, the December 2010 Journal of Medical Virology documented another connection between the two viruses. According to the researchers, infection with Hepatitis C induces reactivation of EBV in B cells – an important cell in the immune system.

Most of us already have EBV lying dormant in our bodies. Although a connection has been found between Epstein-Barr and Hepatitis C, there is no reason for anyone infected with either virus to be concerned about their relationship. However, the discoveries that Epstein-Barr helps Hepatitis C replicate and that Hepatitis C reactivates Epstein-Barr could prove invaluable as the search for better real-life solutions to these two viruses continues.

References:

http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/963894-overview, Mononucleosis and Epstein-Barr Virus Infection, Nicholas John Bennett, MB, BCh, PhD, Retrieved November 7, 2010, Medscape, 2010.

http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm, Epstein-Barr Virus and Infectious Mononucleosis, Retrieved November 5, 2010. National Center for Infectious Diseases, 2010.

http://www.healthscout.com/ency/68/44/main.html, Epstein-Barr virus, Retrieved November 7, 2010, The HealthCentralNetwork, Inc., 2010.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1171642/, Enhancement of hepatitis C virus replication by Epstein-Barr virus-encoded nuclear antigen 1,Y Sugawara, et al, Retrieved November 1, 2010, The EMBO Journal, October 1999.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20981844, Reactivation of epstein-barr virus in B cells of patients with chronic hepatitis C, Shimozuma Y, et al, Retrieved November 1, 2010, Journal of Medical Virology, December 2010.

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