A recent study suggested a link between hepatitis C (HCV) infection and the development of cataracts.
The study, “Increasing risk of cataract in HCV patients receiving anti-HCV therapy: A nationwide cohort study,” was published in the journal PLOS One.
Cataracts are a major cause of vision impairment worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of 33% in the general population. The condition is also a significant source of healthcare spending as patients with cataracts are more likely to fall, have motor vehicle accidents, and are less likely to be able to live independently, according to the researchers, from Taiwan’s China Medical University Hospital.
HCV infection is believed to increase systemic oxidative stress, contributing to extra hepatic manifestations that can affect multiple organ systems. Cataract development has also been linked to increased oxidative stress, but there have been few formal studies about the association between HCV and cataracts until recently.
Researchers conducted a population-based study with 11,652 HCV-infected patients for just over five years. The patients were registered with the National Health Insurance (NHI) database of Taiwan, and were age- and sex-matched against a group of non-HCV patients.
Rates of cataract development were compared between groups after controlling for possible confounding variables, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, and anxiety.
Researchers found that HCV-infected patients were more likely to develop cataracts than non-HCV infected patients. Overall, the incidence rate of cataracts was 1.36 times higher in the HCV group than in the non-HCV group.
Interestingly, HCV-infected patients who were undergoing treatment with interferon-ribavirin therapy were found to have the greatest risk of developing cataracts, with a 1.83 times higher prevalence of cataract development compared to those without HCV infection.
“In conclusion, the current nationwide cohort study revealed that HCV-infected patients have an increased risk of cataract,” the team wrote. “Furthermore, HCV-infected patients receiving interferon–ribavirin therapy have a 1.83 times higher prevalence of cataract than those without HCV infection.”
Despite the findings that HCV-infected patients undergoing treatment may be more likely to develop cataracts, researchers did not discourage therapies that treat HCV.
“Considering the surgical curability of cataract and serious HCV infection-related morbidity, we do not discourage the use of anti-HCV therapy for HCV-infected patients,” they wrote. “Instead, we recommend routine screening of these HCV patients for ocular problems, especially those who received interferon alpha–ribavirin therapy.”