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Why there is no vaccine for hepatitis C?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Aug 31, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Right now, there is no vaccine for the hepatitis C virus. Researchers have been trying to make a vaccine against hepatitis C for many years, but they have not succeeded yet. The main reason there is no vaccine for hepatitis C is because this virus has many strains, called genotypes, and many subtypes.

To be effective, a vaccine must be able to protect against all or most of the genotypes and subtypes. Hepatitis C has at least 7 genotypes and more than 80 subtypes.

Researchers continue to look for a vaccine that will be effective for hepatitis C. In the meantime, drug companies have developed new drugs to treat hepatitis C. These drugs can cure hepatitis C for most people, even chronic hepatitis C, no matter the genotype or subtype. This makes the search for a vaccine less urgent, yet still important.

Other types of hepatitis viruses, types A and B, have had a vaccine for many years.

The search for a vaccine

Even though there are now medications that can cure hepatitis C, researchers are getting closer to finding a vaccine. Vaccines are currently being tested in people with chronic hepatitis C to see if a vaccine will strengthen their immune system. New vaccines may use both hepatitis C antibodies and immune cells called T cells to stimulate immunity.

Even though there is no vaccine yet for hepatitis C, if you have hepatitis C, it is still important to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. Being infected with hepatitis A or B could make liver damage worse when you have hepatitis C.

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver. You can have a short-term infection that your body’s immune system fights off. This is called an acute infection. However, in about 70% of cases, the immune system is unable to fight off the infection, and the infection becomes long-term, called chronic hepatitis C. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer.

Risk factors

Hepatitis C is the most common viral infection that causes liver damage and is spread by blood. It is spread from person to person through contact with infected blood. People at risk for hepatitis C include people who had a blood transfusion before 1992 and people who have injected drugs.

Other risk factors include:

  • Being on kidney dialysis
  • Having contact with blood or needles at work
  • Having a tattoo or body piercing
  • Living or working in a prison
  • Being born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • Having HIV

Hepatitis C is usually not transmitted through sex, but you could be at risk if you are a man who has sex with men, or if you have many sexual contacts with people who have sexually transmitted diseases. It’s a good idea to discuss any of these risk factors with your doctor.

Symptoms

Many people have hepatitis C without having any symptoms, but even without symptoms, hepatitis C could cause liver damage. That is why it is recommended that everyone between the ages of 19 and 79 have at least one blood test for hepatitis C. Checking for a disease in people without symptoms is called screening.

Symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  • Dark-colored urine and clay-colored stool
  • Yellow eyes or skin (called jaundice)
  • Nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite
  • Fevers and fatigue
  • Joint and belly pain

Prevention

Hepatitis C can be prevented by following some simple precautions. You can help reduce your risk of hepatitis C by:

  • Not sharing needles and other drug materials
  • Not sharing personal items, such as razors, nail clippers or toothbrushes
  • Making sure that any tattoos or piercings are done with sterile tools and ink
  • Practicing safe sex
  • Wearing gloves when you are exposed to blood

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