Researchers Find Cousin of Hepatitis C Virus in
MONDAY, May 23 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers report that
they've discovered a virus similar to the human hepatitis C virus
in dogs, a finding that might provide insight into how the germ
evolved in people and perhaps lead to better treatments.
About 200 million people around the world are thought to suffer
from hepatitis C, including an estimated 3.2 million chronically
infected people in the United States. Many don't know they're
infected with the liver-damaging virus that causes the disease,
which means they can spread it to others without realizing it.
The new findings suggest that hepatitis C may have "jumped" from
dogs to humans more than five centuries ago, the researchers
"Considering the origin of HIV, we expected to find the closest homologs, or genetic relatives, of [hepatitis C virus] in non-human primates," study author Dr. Amit Kapoor, an investigator with Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health's Center for Infection and Immunity, said in a news release.
"However," Kapoor added, "while we were analyzing samples from dogs involved in outbreaks of respiratory disease, we came upon a virus that was more similar to HCV than other viruses of the same family. So far, we have only detected [the virus] in sick animals, a few of which had died of unknown causes. Because of its close genetic similarity to HCV, we suggested the name of canine hepacivirus."
Study co-author Dr. Charles Rice, scientific and executive
director of the Center for the Study of Hepatitis C at The
Rockefeller University, said in the news release that the
beginnings of hepatitis C "remain a mystery. These findings
underscore the need to look beyond primates for clues to the
Scientists say there's no risk of modern-day dogs infecting
people with either human hepatitis C or the canine form.
Hepatitis C is a liver disease that's typically spread through
contact with infected blood. It can also spread through sex with an
infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth,
according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
The study appears in this week's issue of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more about
hepatitis C, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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