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Earlier HIV Therapy Helps Beat Back Hepatitis C

More and more people now carry both of these dangerous viruses, experts say

THURSDAY, Dec. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Starting HIV antiretroviral therapy earlier than generally recommended may lead to better control of the hepatitis C virus in people also infected with HIV, a new study finds.

Infection with both hepatitis C and HIV is a growing problem, say researchers at the Partners AIDS Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. While the immune systems of many people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) are able to naturally control levels of that virus, this natural control may be lost in people who are also infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"The global burden on health of chronic viral infections is immense, and HCV and HIV are chief among culprit viruses," study co-author Dr. Arthur Kim said in a prepared statement.

"Due to shared routes of transmission, infection with both viruses is common. Unfortunately, HCV behaves as an opportunistic infection in the presence of HIV and is becoming a leading cause of illness and death in persons with HIV," Kim said.

This study included 60 people infected with both HIV and HCV, and 17 infected only with HCV. The findings suggest that, in people infected with both viruses, it may be beneficial to start antiretroviral therapy before levels of immune system CD4 helper T-cell levels drop too low to maintain control of HCV.

The findings appear in the December issue of PLoS Medicine.

"Currently, a nationwide trial is recruiting people for a study examining whether earlier treatment of HIV will improve hepatitis C treatment outcomes," Kim said. "Part of this study will investigate how earlier treatment may affect immune responses."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about HIV/HCV co-infection.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Dec. 11, 2006
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