Infection with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) doesn't damage women's cognitive function—mental tasks such as attention, memory and the abilities to solve problems and make decisions—according to Women's Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) data published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and reported by aidsmap. The researchers confirmed, however, that HIV infection alone is independently associated with cognitive impairment.

Previous studies have indicated that HCV increases the risk of neurocognitive impairment, possibly because the virus can migrate to the brain. And while researchers have indicated that coinfection with both HCV and HIV—another chronic viral infection that has been linked to central nervous system problems—may further increase the risk of cognitive deficits, this theory has not been definitively proved, notably in women.

To shed light on this lingering question, researchers analyzed data involving 1,338 women, 18 percent of whom had detectable levels of HCV and 67 percent of whom were HIV positive. The participants were divided into six groups based on their HCV infection status, HIV infection status and immune system health.

After controlling for properties known to have a negative impact on cognitive function—age, liver disease status, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.—the researchers found no connection between diminished cognitive function and HCV infection. However, the research showed that HIV infection was correlated with cognitive impairments, notably processing information and perceptual-motor ability (hand-eye coordination).

The researchers said that larger studies, including both men and women, would be required to gain a definitive answer regarding the effect of HCV on cognitive processes.