A Timeline on Hepatitis C Virus Discovery

Thanks to recent developments in hepatitis C (HCV) treatment, HCV can now be cured quickly and safely, with some courses of treatment taking only six weeks.

While we celebrate this achievement, let's also take a moment to look back at how HCV arose in the first place. Here is a timeline on the discovery of hepatitis C, adapted from a presentation given by Charles M. Rice, at CROI 2015 in Seattle, Washington.

Hepatitis is seen as a malady of people during wars, mainly as outbreaks of jaundice.

Theiler's disease: Arnold Theiler, a prominent veterinarian, notices that horses are experiencing hepatitis after being vaccinated for African horse sickness (using immune serum and live virus).

Outbreaks of hepatitis occur in humans after vaccination against yellow fever and efforts to vaccinate against Western equine encephalomyelitis virus (using attenuated virus and human serum).

A study paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine recognizes the link between hepatitis and certain vaccinations containing homologous serum.

Two types of hepatitis are recognized: "infectious" (hepatitis A virus, HAV) and "serum" (hepatitis B virus, HBV). These are, again, associated with vaccination against yellow fever.

Baruch Blumberg discovers hepatitis B antigen in patient blood. Blumberg would later win the Nobel Prize for his work in the discovery of hepatitis B.

The first visualization of HBV particles is seen using electron microscopy.

Stephen Feinstone, M.D., Albert Kapikian, M.D., and Robert Purcell, M.D., discover hepatitis A particles using electron microscopy.

Early-to-Mid 1970s
Harvey Alter, M.D., notices non-A, non-B hepatitis (NANBH) in about 10% of transfusion patients. The NANBH often results in persistent hepatitis and liver cirrhosis.

Mid 1970s
The mysterious NANBH is transmitted to chimpanzees.

Mario Rizzetto, M.D., and collaborating researchers discover hepatitis D, which they initially link to HBV.

Qui-Lim Choo, Ph.D., George Kuo, Ph.D., Daniel Bradley, Ph.D., and Michael Houghton, Ph.D., win the race by isolating and discovering hepatitis C virus (HCV), using virus concentrated from pooled chimpanzee serum.

Vaccinations for HAV and HBV are developed. No vaccination for HCV is discovered, but treatment development ramps up.

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