Is hepatitis C virus a risk factor for thyroid autoimmunity?


Annarosa Floreani, Department of Surgical and Gastroenterological Sciences, 2 Via Giustiniani, 35128 Padova, Italy. E-mail:


Summary.  The role of hepatitis C virus (HCV) in inducing thyroid autoimmunity is still under discussion and to assess the prevalence of thyroid autoantibodies and thyroid disease in the general population and to analyse the role of HCV in inducing thyroid autoimmunity. We studied 697 subjects residing in Arsita (a small town in central Italy). Thyroid autoantibodies and nonorgan-specific autoantibodies (NOSAs) were tested in each subject, who were also screened for anti-HCV antibodies; all subjects found positive to HCV–RNA were considered as being HCV-infected. Thyroid function tests were performed in all subjects positive for thyroid autoantibody. Seventy-one subjects were found HCV-positive; four of these (5.6%) were positive for at least one thyroid autoantibody, as opposed to 7 (4.9%) of the 142 sex- and age-matched controls of the same population (P = n.s.). Thyroid dysfunction was found in 2/4 HCV-positive, and in 1/7 HCV-negative subjects with thyroid autoantibodies (P = n.s.). NOSAs were significantly more common in HCV-positive than in HCV-negative subjects (P < 0.0001). Hence HCV per se is not responsible for thyroid autoimmune dysfunction, whereas HCV does seem to induce NOSAs. It should be taken into account, however, that the phenotypic expression of autoimmune diseases is obviously influenced by a number of risk factors, including genetic predisposition, female sex and infectious agents, that could trigger the onset of the disease.