Hepatitis G virus (HGV), also known as GB virus-C (GBC), is a benign virus that infects humans, but has not been proven to cause disease. Although the virus lives in the blood, and is genetically similar to hepatitis C, there is no indication that it results in liver damage like other types of hepatitis. It was first discovered in 1995, and is believed to infect between two and five percent of people worldwide.
Hepatitis G is known to cause persistent infection in 15 to 30 percent of adults for as long as nine years. Many times infected persons will not be aware that they carry the virus, because symptoms are non-existent. It is commonly found in co-infections with other viruses, such as hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In fact, more than one third of people infected with HIV are also infected with hepatitis G.
The hepatitis G virus is transmitted through blood. Sharing personal care items such as razors and toothbrushes infected with the virus can spread the disease, as well as sexual intercourse, from mother to child at birth, intravenous drug use, or other blood to blood contact. The virus cannot be contracted through saliva, semen, or any other bodily fluids other than blood.
Some people are at higher risk for contracting hepatitis G than others. Hemodialysis patients, users of injected drugs, and health care workers exposed to blood on a regular basis, are at the highest risk for becoming infected with the virus. Anyone who receives a tattoo, acupuncture, or a body piercing is at medium risk, if the tools being used are not properly sterilized.
Because hepatitis G was so recently discovered, there is no cure or recommended treatment. There is research being performed on the virus currently, but little is known aside from the fact that it doesn’t seem to cause liver damage. Individual response to the virus will vary, and so will treatment options. However, getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, and avoiding alcohol and other liver irritants are all recommended for sufferers of hepatitis G.
Hepatitis G does seem promising for HIV sufferers, according to several recent laboratory studies. It appears that patients infected with both HIV and hepatitis G live longer than patients infected with HIV alone. Scientists believe that the virus prevents HIV from replicating as frequently, thus extending the life of the patient by inhibiting damage to the immune system.