Immune system remains damaged despite cured hepatitis C infection

Immune system remains damaged despite cured hepatitis C infection

The immune system remains changed for many years, even after a hepatitis C infection heals, according to a new study by Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, and Hannover Medical School, Germany.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) poses a major health problem globally and, when the immune system fails to fight the virus, can lead to cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. This results in the immune system becoming exhausted.

However, over recent years, most patients with hepatitis C can now be cured of the virus in just a few weeks thanks to revolutionary new medications.

How infections impact the immune system

This study comprised 40 patients with chronic HCV of whom researchers followed before, during and after treatment with the new medications in a bid to investigate impact on the composition and diversity of the immune system.

In order for the immune system to have the ability to fight infections, diversity is vital. Particularly important are natural killer cells (NK), which is a type of white blood cells.

The researchers used flow cytometry and a new measurement method to derive the composition of the immune system, as well as the appearance of NK cells and their function in the blood.

Analysing the immune system’s complexity

Lead on the study, Niklas Björkström, physician and associate professor at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge, Karolinska Institute, said: “Researchers in the field previously focused on analysing individual components but were unable to draw any comprehensive conclusion.

“The immune system is extraordinarily complex, incorporating a large number of interacting parts. We adapted new methods in order to assess and analyse that complexity in a fresh manner.”

It was found that the overall composition of the body’s defence system was affected by the chronic infection, with significantly reduced diversity among the NK cells. Changes remained long after eradication of the virus.

What are the long-term prospects?

Researchers have not yet determined the long-term implications but are currently exploring whether patients have a harder time fighting future infection.

Benedikt Strunz, physician and doctoral student at the same department, added: “One strength of our study is that we monitored patients for more than two years following elimination of the virus.

“To the best of our knowledge, nobody has ever monitored over such a long term like this before.”

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  1. I took Epclusa l yr ago ,got rid of virus ,I’m 66yrs old I’m bit worried that doing the treatment may have weakened my immune system ,which could effect me with the coronaviris,I already have asthma plus few other problems since doing Epclusa..thank you.

    • I just finished my treatment with Mavyret. I alao have asthma. I havent officially been told I am cured but I am optimistic. But like you, i too am worrried about my immune system. Leta pray and follow all the CDC suggestions and qith that I am hoping we can stay out of the Coronavirus’ path. Also I am a grocery store worker and have to wirk with the public.

    • Hi I’m about to begin treatment for hep c 1A. How did you do on the meds? Do you have any input for me? I am a little bit nervous. I suffered from liver failure 9 years ago and recovered but I have fibrosis and also was diagnosed with non alcoholic fatty liver disease…. Did you have any side effects? Was there anything that helped you during treatment?

      • The side effects are completely brutal at 8 weeks just finished my last dosage yesterday today’s hell it’s been hell for 8 weeks the only thing that helps me is to think that maybe this is going to give me a second chance with my family to stay alive and live longer I love them you’re good they deserve better than a sick father but this treatment is the closest to hell I’ve ever been

    • Hello and I just found this during research. Had epclusa treatment in 2017 and felt pretty good for a short period. Developed heart issues and asthma and conpermised immune system, etc. Anyone else have these problems? Thinking of things I can do to help feel better.

      • Hi I took epclusa about 4 years ago but I’m wondering if the exhaustion weakness fatigue or whatever you call it that I constantly struggle with is from the hep c is still reactive or what I am just tired of never having energy? It says I’m cured whatever that means but I just want to understand this virus better

  2. Hi David I’m worried as well I too have taken epclusa and I am worried that my immune system is compromised making me vulnerable to the coronavirus

    • Hi Bobbi,thanks for reply ,since doing Epclusa have you had aching knees legs ,I also have few other problems numb feet hands very little energy ,I’m also worried about immune system no one over here seem to have any answers ,

  3. I have recently finished treatment with epclusa and have to still be officially cleared and am worried as my I have definitely noticed that since I’ve finished the treatment my immune system has been worse and have already been quite ill 🤔

  4. I am supposed to start Epclusa today and am concerned. I’ve had it probably for 9 years genotype 3a. I need to do the treatment because my hep c is aggressive. My enzymes are over a million. Is the treatment worth it?

    • It’s been 2yrs since treatment ,yes hep has gone so far ,don’t worry bout your viral load too much ,mine was over 9 mill has gone now ,that’s pretty far out,as for being worth it I think it is , unfortunately for me I have onset asthma COPD,which complicated things a bit .now my dr wants me to do Bowell test ,stress test for heart plus chest X ray,I really don’t feel like doing them ,I know there’s gonna be damage after 40 yrs living bohemian life style ,I’m 67 now my kids are grown up .I’m lucky to be here still most my friends didn’t make it this far,I get numb feet anxiety aching legs ECT so far !lucky negative for coronavirus , hope this helps if I can tell you anything get back to me ,good luck this breathing thing IV got now worries me heaps IV never been short of breath pre treatment ,could be my heart ,I’m stressed about doing stress test ,lol trying to quit cigs finding it really hard.i start stressing then feel like cigarette.good luck.

  5. I was diagnosed in 2015 with Hep C genotype 1A.. No prior liver damage or problems.. I took Viekira Pak along with Ribavirin for 12 weeks.. I would think everyone’s experience with the treatment will vary, depending on which drugs they’re using for treatment, their overall health & lifestyle.. But MY experience, it was hard I was weak, I was nauseous, I was constipated, I lost my appetite but I had to eat to take the medication.. Now was it worth it, ABSOLUTELY!!! I remain as of today “Non Virus Detected” & feel GREAT!! C. Adams

  6. I treated with harvoni in 2016 and now I have liver cancer. I’m wondering can I take immune boosting herbs and mushrooms or is my immune system already on overdrive?

  7. I had hep c in 2016 and was given treatment at the VA…. in 12 weeks I completely cured… I had other treatments before in trial studies for the virus but didn’t clear… I feel my immune system was strengthen and given a boost…. haven’t had a cold flu since…. hopefully it’ll continue to fight off viruses.

  8. I did a clinical trial for hep C about 4 years ago. I had had it for about 15 years but 0 damage. I never get sick so I have to believe that after that amount of time my immune system has either recovered or was never damaged in the first place.

  9. My identical twin brother and I treated for HCV about five years ago . We have lived together, worked together, even raised my daughter together . Same diet same everything since birth ! So , of course it was no surprise to find out we both had the same genotype of the virus . Genotype 3 , which at that time required six months of treatment of Sovaldi and Ribavirin . Since then it has been all downhill . We both see the same rheumatologist and have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, RA with poly neuropathies , Sjögren’s syndrome or disorder . Whatever “autoimmune disease “ it is , it moves fast and is aggressive . The fatigue is just brutal , chronic pain and chronic fatigue . I’ve been told by many different doctors that this could be “chemo-induced” . We are both small framed , 5”7 , 125 .
    Anyway I realize it could be the damage done from the HCV and having it without knowing for nearly two decades.
    Very interesting article !
    PEACE !

    • I had hep C for 25years-genotype 4. I was treated with a Ribavirin combo 2017. I was told beforehand that I was ANA* (autoimmune antibodies) but did not understand the gravity of what it meant.
      I had never been sick from hep c but 4 months after I finished ‘treatment’ (which had no side effects at the time) my immune system went haywire. I believe removing the hep C viral load triggered multiple autoimmune diseases (oral lichen planus, hashimotos, undifferentiated connective tissue disease).
      Considering how long I had the virus, my immune system was most definitely effected.
      Don’t get me wrong -I am greatful for treatment! (it’s better than dying of cirrhosis or liver cancer- treatment was a no brainer).
      Nevertheless, I don’t think it is a 100% cure … as it’s long term effects WILL surface -particularly if you are ANA+

  10. i took mayvrett… Re has been well over a year. i have since been seeing a rhumatologist are nonstop inflammation, my body is damaged and my doctor says that my immune system is attacking itself. I was not sick at all before treatment.

  11. Hello, I contracted HCV in 1993. I did not get treatment until 2017. I took Epclusa and now the virus is showing -not detected- though when a regular test is done the hospitals and doctors try to claim I still have it and refuse to remove their findings off my medical record. I’ve been free of the virus for 4 yrs now; though I now have an enlarged spleen, vasculitis while having low WBC and low platelet count. My problem is that because I had the virus for so long that doctors are not willing to take into account that my grandfather had Polycythemia vera which can develop into other blood diseases by mutation. I am currently waiting for appointments to be made with a disease control specialist and a hematologist. Hopefully, they will listen to what I have to say.

  12. Hi I took epclusa about 4 years ago but I’m wondering if the exhaustion weakness fatigue or whatever you call it that I constantly struggle with is from the hep c is still reactive or what I am just tired of never having energy? It says I’m cured whatever that means but I just want to understand this virus better

  13. Of course some people may know or have a good idea of when they were infected. I was stuck by a needle at work when I was a medical professional or some used drugs injected at some point in their life and likely infected then. There are many scenarios and although we’ll never know for sure we can use common sense and degree of disease progression as well as other factors to narrow it down. Some have no clue and other do. Let’s not judge ! Regardless we move on and hopefully support each other. I think I’ve had this for many many years and after achieving SVR about seven or eight years ago with Sovaldi and Ribavarin for 24 weeks I suffer from many extra hepatic and hepatic diseases. Everyone has a different story. Even my reaction to the COVID vaccine let me know my immune system is not working properly. I had severe Bradykinin storm and inflammatory clotting swelling petechiae necrosis and rash for weeks. Could not get my second dose as every doctor told me not to as did my colleagues from my last job who are all RN’s. Tomorrow I see my new PCP and as exhausted as I am with our healthcare system I will try again to get help I wish all of you regardless of how you were infected or when if you know ? Lol. Have a good one and go easy.

  14. My career is in fitness, so I survived although exhausted for over 10 years of no cure and worsening symptoms.
    I was lucky enough to be on a clinical trial with AbVee in 2015, at a time when I honestly felt my vital organs were giving out.
    I can tell you all that it took 2 years to finally feel somewhat normal after the trial. During these two years, I caught every flu, cold, etc that was around. My
    Immune system finally built up ,
    I recommended you take care of yourself while healing, be patient, and Let the amazing body heal Itself:)


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