Some injection drug users with HIV and hepatitis C seem to have the same immune problems as the elderly.
As the body ages, the immune system starts to become less effective. A side effect of this is higher mortality rates in people over 60-years-old.
This aging process, immune senescence, can be increased by chronic viral infections. A study published in Immunity & Ageing explored the complex relationship between injection drug users (IDU) with hepatitis C virus (HCV) monoinfection and HIV/HCV coinfection and their immune systems.
According to the study, IDU are at a higher risk of developing infections, whether it is chronic or acute. Due to this, IDU are more likely to develop multimorbidity, and even mortality, from diseases or infections. This occurrence is common in elderly people.
The participants included 23 HIV/HCV coinfected individuals and 21 HCV-positive individuals. The control group was 8 multiple exposure uninfected drug users.
Researchers compared telomere length, its expression of activation and differentiation, and exhaustion markers on T cells. These measurements were taken once at the start of the study and again at the median point of 16.9 years later.
It was discovered during the original measurement that people in all IDU groups were observed to have a decreased relative telomere length compared with healthy donors who were measured. According to data collected, there was not much of a decline after the initial measurement.
The researchers conclude that both subjects with HCV and those with HCV/HIV accelerate immune senescence during the early stages of the infection. Patients who have these diseases must receive treatment early on to attempt to slow down immune senescence.