Hepatitis G is a newly discovered form of liver
inflammation caused by hepatitis G virus (HGV), a distant
relative of the hepatitis C virus.
HGV, also called hepatitis GB
virus, was first described early in 1996. Little is known about
the frequency of HGV infection, the nature of the illness, or
how to prevent it. What is known is that transfused blood
containing HGV has caused some cases of hepatitis. For this
reason, patients with hemophilia and other bleeding conditions
who require large amounts of blood or blood products are at risk
of hepatitis G. HGV has been identified in between 1-2% of blood
donors in the United States. Also at risk are patients with
kidney disease who have blood exchange by hemodialysis, and
those who inject drugs into their veins. It is possible that an
infected mother can pass on the virus to her newborn infant.
Sexual transmission also is a possibility.
Often patients with hepatitis G are infected at the same time by
the hepatitis B or C virus, or both. In about three of every
thousand patients with acute viral hepatitis, HGV is the only
virus present. There is some indication that patients with
hepatitis G may continue to carry the virus in their blood for
many years, and so might be a source of infection in others.
Causes and Symptoms
Some researchers believe that there may be a group of GB
viruses, rather than just one. Others remain doubtful that HGV
actually causes illness. If it does, the type of acute or
chronic (long-lasting) illness that results is not clear. When
diagnosed, acute HGV infection has usually been mild and brief.
There is no evidence of serious complications, but it is
possible that, like other hepatitis viruses, HGV can cause
severe liver damage resulting in liver failure. The virus has
been identified in as many as 20% of patients with long-lasting
viral hepatitis, some of whom also have hepatitis C.
The only method of detecting HGV
is a complex and costly DNA test that is not widely available.
Efforts are under way, however, to develop a test for the HGV
antibody, which is formed in response to invasion by the virus.
Once antibody is present, however, the virus itself generally
has disappeared, making the test too late to be of use.
Testing for a virus that does not seem to cause any illness is
generally confined to research purposes. Antibodies can be
tested for in blood and a PCR test can show the presence of the
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