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Scientists a step closer to Hepatitis C vaccine

European scientists say they have successfully tested in animals a vaccine for hepatitis C, a contagious and debilitating virus that can cause liver failure and cancer.

Currently, there is no human vaccine for hepatitis C (HCV), which is spread through contaminated blood and kills some 350,000 people worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Around 170 million people are estimated to be living with chronic disease caused by the virus.

At least 10 million of them are illegal drug users who have contracted HCV by sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia, a recent study has shown.

"Without rapid intervention to contain the spread of the disease, the death rate from hepatitis C is estimated to surpass that from AIDS in the next century," the researchers warn.

Unlike hepatitis A or B, most people infected with HCV cannot shake off the virus on their own because, when under attack by the immune system, it morphs into stronger variants.

The body is unable to produce enough "neutralising antibodies," the only kind able to handling a broad array of mutations.

But in the case of HCV, using the classic technique of making a vaccine from a weakened or inactive form of the virus - which works well in inducing such antibodies - is too dangerous due to potential side-effects and the risk of infection.
 
 

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