Five human hepatitis viruses cause most of the acute and chronic liver disease worldwide. Over the past 25 years, hepatitis C virus (HCV) in particular has received much interest because of its ability to persist in most immunocompetent adults and because of the lack of a protective vaccine. Here we examine innate and adaptive immune responses to HCV infection. Although HCV activates an innate immune response, it employs an elaborate set of mechanisms to evade interferon (IFN)-based antiviral immunity. By comparing innate and adaptive immune responses to HCV with those to hepatitis A and B viruses, we suggest that prolonged innate immune activation by HCV impairs the development of successful adaptive immune responses. Comparative immunology provides insights into the maintenance of immune protection. We conclude by discussing prospects for an HCV vaccine and future research needs for the hepatitis viruses.
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