A virological perspective on the need for vaccination


Dr. S. Locarnini Research and Molecular Development, Victorian Infectious Diseases, Reference Laboratory 10 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051, Australia.


Superinfecton of chronic carriers of hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) with hepatitis A virus (HAV) is often associated with more severe liver disease than infection with HAV alone. Superinfection commonly causes markers of HBV and HCV replication to fall to significantly lower levels. The pathogenesis of acute liver damage characteristic of viral hepatitis is thought to be mediated by host cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs) directed against virus-infected hepatocytes. It has been proposed that the more aggressive liver disease observed in individuals infected with HAV in addition to chronic HBV/HCV is a result of the induction of interferon (IFN)-α during acute HAV infection. This accounts for the antiviral effect on the active markers of HBV/HCV replication, and the enhanced CTL response against HBV/HCV-infected hepatocytes. Alternatively, HAV may indirectly stimulate the T helper 1 (Th1)-type cytokine responses, such as interleukin (IL)-2, IFN-γ and tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, which directly promote the antiviral CTL response. Clearance of HBV infection, and possible HAV and HCV, is associated with a specific CTL response, while viral persistence in chronic HBV and HCV infection has been attributed to an imbalance in the Th1–Th2 arms of the immune response. Vaccination against hepatitis A should be considered for patients with chronic HBV/HCV infection, to minimize the risk of exacerbating underlying liver disease.