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Highly Accessed Review

Current treatment of hepatitis C-associated rheumatic diseases

Clodoveo Ferri1*, Marco Sebastiani1, Alessandro Antonelli2, Michele Colaci1, A Manfredi1 and Dilia Giuggioli1

Author Affiliations

1 Rheumatology Unit, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia School of Medicine, 41100 Modena, Italy

2 Department of Internal Medicine, Metabolism Unit, University of Pisa School of Medicine, Pisa, 56100, Italy

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:215  doi:10.1186/ar3865

Published: 25 June 2012

Abstract

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is both hepatotropic and lymphotropic, responsible for a great number of hepatic and extrahepatic immune-system disorders that comprise the so-called HCV syndrome. HCV-associated rheumatic diseases are characterized by frequent clinico-serological overlap; therefore, correct classification of individual patients is necessary before therapeutic decisions are made. This is particularly difficult to do, however, because of the coexistence of viral infection and complex autoimmune alterations. In this context, mixed cryoglobulinemia syndrome (MCs) represents the prototype of virus-related autoimmune-lymphoproliferative diseases. MCs can be treated at different levels by means of etiological treatment with antivirals (peg-interferon-alpha plus ribavirin) aimed at HCV eradication and/or pathogenetic/symptomatic treatments directed to both immune-system alterations and the vasculitic process (rituximab, cyclophosphamide, steroids, plasmapheresis, and so on). In clinical practice, the therapeutic strategy should be modulated according to severity/activity of the MCs and possibly tailored to each individual patient's conditions. Cryoglobulinemic skin ulcers may represent a therapeutic challenge, which should be managed by means of both local and systemic treatments. HCV-associated arthritis should be differentiated from the simple comorbidity of HCV infection and classical rheumatoid arthritis. It may be treated with low doses of steroids and/or hydroxychloroquine; the use of biologics (rituximab) may be considered in more severe cases. Primary Sjögren's syndrome is rarely associated with HCV infection, while sicca syndrome and myalgia are frequently detectable in hepatitis C patients, with or without cryoglobulinemic vasculitis. Other autoimmune rheumatic disorders (poly/dermatomyositis, polyarteritis nodosa, osteosclerosis, fibromyalgia, and so on) have been reported as potentially associated with HCV infection in patient populations from different countries, suggesting the role of genetic and/or environmental co-factors. The therapeutic approach to these disorders should be decided according to each individual patient's evaluation, including hepatic, virological, and immunological findings.