Virus Transmission

Hepatitis C virus is transmitted by direct blood-to-blood contact: while blood transfusions were the main problem prior to 1990, transmission by blood products is no longer an issue in Germany - owing to highly sensitive tests. Nowadays, insufficient hygiene is the main hepatitis C virus infection risk. What can we do against the spread of this virus due to deficient hygiene? Prevention is the silver bullet for control of the hepatitis C virus. Another aspect in the focus of the members of the Virus Transmission research group: The envelope of the virus also plays a central role for infection of the host, the host's defence strategies and the production and release of new viruses.

Today, the transmission of hepatitis C virus occurs mainly via one of two ways: the use of injection equipment by unsterile technique in non-industrialised countries and drug abuse in the industrialised countries. Tattooing, piercing, acupuncture and medical interventions involving the use of insufficiently sterilised equipment can also lead to the transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV). In contrast, HCV infections due to sexual intercourse with HCV-positive partners are rather rare. Transmission of an infection from an HCV-positive mother to her child, either before or after giving birth, occurs in up to four percent of the cases. It needs to be noted, though, that the route of virus transmission cannot be traced in approximately one third of all HCV patients.

An important aspect of the HCV issue is prevention, since it should be possible to control the transmission route from blood to blood using suitable hygiene measures. The researchers focus specifically on transmission in hospitals as well as the stability and sensitivity of HCV to chemical disinfectants. Since there are no suitable in-vitro models of HCV available, earlier investigations and the available experience are based mainly on studies of bovine diarrhoea virus (BVDV). This virus is closely related to HCV and techniques for culturing this virus have been available for some time. However, studies on this surrogate virus yield only fairly unreliable estimates about the infectiousness of HCV.