A. Antonelli, C. Ferri, M. Galeazzi, C. Giannitti, D. Manno, G. Mieli-Vergani, E. Menegatti, I. Olivieri, M. Puoti, C. Palazzi, D. Roccatello, D. Vergani, P. Sarzi-Puttini, F. Atzeni
University of Pisa School of Medicine, Pisa, Italy
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ABSTRACT: Chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is a worldwide public health problem with a global prevalence of 2-3%. It is believed that about 170 million people are currently infected (about 3% of the world`s population), and a further 3-4 million are infected each year. HCV is the main reason for liver transplantation in the developed world, and the main cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality in a number of countries, including Italy. It is not only a frequent cause of chronic liver diseases such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, but is also involved in the pathogenesis of various autoimmune and rheumatic disorders (arthritis, vasculitis, sicca syndrome, porphyria cutanea tarda, lichen planus, nephropathies, thyroid diseases, and lung fibrosis), as well as in the development of B-cell lymphoproliferative diseases. Furthermore, patients suffering from C hepatitis tend to produce rheumatoid factor, cryoglobulins and a large series of autoantibodies (ANA, anti-SSA/SSB, SAM, ATG, aCL). The use of glucocorticoids or immuno-suppressant agents in HCV infected individuals, which are needed to treat autoimmune and rheumatic disorders, leads to a risk of worsening the clinical outcome of HCV. Under these conditions, the viral infection often needs to be treated with antiviral agents, mainly pegylated interferon combined with ribavirin. However, cyclosporine A seems to be safe and effective in patients with autoimmune disease (AD) and concomitant chronic HCV infection as is documented by the reduction in viremia and transaminases, particularly in patients with high baseline levels. Finally, HCV is the main trigger of mixed cryoglobulinemia. An attempt at viral eradication is therefore indicated in most patients, and is particularly effective in the case of mild or moderate manifestations. In severe cases, rituximab is an apparently safe and effective alternative to conventional immunosuppression and, specifically, it controls B-cell proliferation.
PMID: 18570753 [PubMed]