The hepatitis C virus can cause renal disease, though it is rare. It occurs when there is inflammation in the small blood vessels that usually act as filters inside the kidneys. Long-term damage can result, which may lead to the need for a transplant.

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) causes the condition hepatitis C, which affects the liver. It can be a short-term illness, but for some people, it develops into a chronic condition that can affect other organs, including the kidneys.

People with chronic kidney disease are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis C during dialysis. To help avoid this, healthcare professionals must follow sterilization procedures and transfusion protocols.

In this article, we will examine the relationship between hepatitis C and kidney disease, what acute and chronic kidney problems are, and the risks surrounding hemodialysis and kidney transplants.

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When hepatitis C affects the kidneys, it generally impacts the glomeruli, which are clusters of blood vessels responsible for filtering the blood. HCV causes inflammation in the blood vessels, also known as vasculitis. The kidneys’ ability to filter correctly is interrupted, and over time they sustain lasting damage.

HCV is an established cause of kidney damage and kidney failure. Studies have shown links with a 2.2-fold higher mortality rate and a 15% higher rate of decreased kidney function.

It is rare for HCV infection to cause acute kidney injury (AKI), but it is possible. AKI occurs when the kidneys stop working for a short period of time. If doctors are able to treat the cause of the problem quickly, the kidneys may return to their usual function again.

Hepatitis C can cause AKI because it can induce vasculitis, or swelling of blood vessels. The small blood vessels inside the kidneys are instrumental to their function.

In very rare cases, some medications to treat hepatitis C can lead to higher risks of AKI, including ledipasvir‐sofosbuvir.

Learn about acute renal failure here.

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) means there is irreversible damage to the kidneys that may worsen. It is rare for CKD to happen due to hepatitis C, but it can occur.

HCV infection can cause inflammation of tiny blood vessels called glomeruli. These blood vessels act as filters inside the kidneys to clean the blood. If they become inflamed, they cannot function correctly and can eventually become permanently damaged.

People with hepatitis C have a higher chance of developing diabetes, which is the leading cause of kidney failure.

Hemodialysis, also called dialysis, is the process of allowing a machine to clean the blood. A person’s blood travels into the dialysis machine through an IV line, where the machine cleans it by removing waste products from it. It then travels back into their body through the same or another IV line.

It is possible to acquire the HCV infection from hemodialysis, although improved infection control methods have greatly reduced the possibility of this occurring. Because a person comes into contact with needles during the process, there is always the possibility of even a very small amount of cross-contamination occurring.

Additionally, there may be contamination of:

  • medications
  • supply carts
  • the dialysis machine
  • needles
  • gloves or other safety equipment

Modern safety and sterilization protocols exist to address the concern of any type of contamination in the dialysis process.

Learn more about hepatitis C doctors here.

Each year, doctors discard more than 1,000 otherwise healthy kidneys from transplantation because they have come from people who were infected with hepatitis C when they died. Early research indicates that by providing follow-up antiviral therapy, it may be possible to transplant these HCV-positive kidneys into recipients who do not have hepatitis C.

A person can be eligible for a kidney transplant if they have HCV. Their medical team will consider the condition of their liver when making the decision. If the liver is not in good condition and the person’s overall health is poor, their doctors may deny them a kidney transplant. If their liver is not in good condition, but their overall health is good, they may be eligible for a dual liver and kidney transplant.

Learn more about kidney transplants for hepatitis C here.

There are a few risk factors of hepatitis C that will also increase the risk of developing kidney disease.

These include:

  • taking illegal drugs by needle injection
  • hemodialysis
  • healthcare professionals in contact with HCV-positive people
  • people with HIV/AIDS
  • children born to HCV-positive mothers
  • people who received donated blood before 1992

People who may also be at risk, though less so than with the above factors, include:

  • people who have sexual contact with an HCV-positive person
  • people who share personal items (toothbrush, razor, etc.) with an HCV-positive person

To reduce the risk of contracting hepatitis C, avoid coming into direct contact with another person’s blood. Keep wounds, scrapes, and cuts clean and bandaged.

Learn more about how hepatitis C spreads here.

Hepatitis C is a condition resulting from HCV. It affects the liver, which can lead to acute kidney injury or chronic kidney damage. Both of these are rare occurrences that result when there is inflammation in the blood vessels of the kidneys.

Hepatitis C can also happen after a person undergoes hemodialysis treatment for kidney disease. If there is cross-contamination between people, one of whom has HCV, the virus may transmit in the course of treatment. This used to be more of a problem when infection control and sterilization protocols were less stringent than they are today.

People with HCV may still be eligible for a kidney transplant if they are in otherwise good health. If their liver is damaged, but their health is otherwise good, they may be eligible for a dual liver and kidney transplant.