A form of hepatitis virus not believed to cause illness may improve survival in people who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In two new studies, HIV-positive people who were also infected with the hepatitis G virus tended to live longer than other people infected with HIV. Researchers suspect that hepatitis G, which is also known as GB virus C, improves survival by keeping HIV from replicating as often.
Hepatitis G, which was identified in the mid-1990s, is closely related to the hepatitis C virus. But unlike hepatitis C, which can cause serious liver disease, hepatitis G is not thought to cause illness. Nearly 2% of healthy blood donors test positive for the virus, and more than one third of HIV-positive individuals may carry the virus. The findings may open the door to new types of HIV treatment with hepatitis G, researchers suggest.
"We are working to try to understand the mechanism of the HIV inhibition'' apparently caused by hepatitis G, Dr. Jack T. Stapleton, of the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "If we can determine how (hepatitis G) infection diminishes HIV growth, we will have both potential targets for new drug approaches and potentially a new therapy approach,'' he said. Several earlier studies had demonstrated a link between hepatitis G and prolonged survival with HIV, so Stapleton and his colleagues conducted a study to confirm the connection.