Researchers have not yet been able to develop a hepatitis C vaccination, though many believe that the need for such a vaccination is clear. A hepatitis C vaccination could be instrumental in preventing hepatitis C infection, which can cause chronic liver disease that often requires a liver transplant. Acute infection with hepatitis C is difficult to treat and can cause irreversible liver damage. Creating a vaccine is complicated because there are many, rapidly mutating strains of this disease and scientists have not yet found a host in which they can effectively study the virus.
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that can cause liver inflammation. When hepatitis C is acute, it usually lasts for only days or weeks. Chronic hepatitis C generally causes symptoms that last for at least six months. It can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis. Many patients suffering chronic hepatitis C eventually require a liver transplant. Hepatitis C usually spreads through contact with the blood or sexual fluids of an infected person.
The World Health Organization believes that as many as 170 million people around the world are suffering from hepatitis C. As many as half of those people may eventually develop cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. The search for a hepatitis C vaccination has been long for a number of reasons.
The virus that causes hepatitis C, HCV, is believed to have six or more different genotypes. This means that there could be more than six different genetic variations of the same virus. Researchers have not yet been able to develop a vaccine that works against all of the varying genotypes of HCV. The HCV virus also tends to mutate frequently, making the development of a hepatitis C vaccination even more difficult.
A third obstacle in the path to an effective hepatitis C vaccination is the current absence of any adequate host in which researchers can study the virus that causes hepatitis C. Researchers most often develop viral vaccinations by studying the viral life cycle, including the way the virus operates inside of its host. Researchers have yet to identify a host cell culture, or animal, that can be infected for the purposes of study. Recreating the virus's natural habitat by infecting human liver cells under laboratory conditions has proven prohibitively difficult.
Researchers are, nevertheless, continuing to work on the hepatitis C vaccination. Several potentially useful hepatitis C vaccinations are currently undergoing clinical trials.