WEDNESDAY, Jan. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have pinpointed two gene variants that protect hepatitis C patients from anemia caused by antiviral treatment.

The findings are detailed in two studies that appear online and in the February print issue of the journal Hepatology.

The ability to identify patients with the two variants in the inosine triphosphatase (ITPA) gene will help ensure that antiviral therapy is completed and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is eliminated, the researchers say in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Up to 170 million people worldwide have chronic HCV infection, which is a leading cause of end-stage liver disease. HCV is curable with the antiviral drugs pegylated interferon and ribavirin, but these medications cause anemia in many patients.

In one study, Italian researchers looked at 238 HCV patients treated with the antiviral drugs and found that the two ITPA variants were strongly associated with protection from anemia.

Japanese scientists found similar results in their study of 61 patients with HCV.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about hepatitis C.