An analysis of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) has found that this group of patients may be more vulnerable to contracting hepatitis C virus (HCV) than healthy individuals.

To reach this conclusion, Spanish researchers studied the prevalence of HCV in 134 consecutive SLE patients and compared this with HCV prevalence in healthy controls. Eleven per cent of the SLE patients had antibodies to HCV compared with only 1 per cent of the controls.

In addition, the researchers found that, when found together, the diseases seemed to have modified each other. For example, HCV infection in SLE patients involves more liver symptoms and immunological disorders than in non-SLE subjects. Also, SLE patients with HCV show fewer skin symptoms and a different DNA profile.

What remains unclear is whether there is a link between HCV and SLE or whether HCV can, under

certain circumstances, mimic SLE. Although small, this study represents one of the largest studies ever done into the association between SLE and HCV. Currently, however, it raises more questions than it answers (Arthritis Rheum, 2000; 43: 2801-6).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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