Molecular epidemiology of a hepatitis C virus outbreak in a haemodialysis unit. Multicentre Haemodialysis Cohort Study on Viral Hepatitis

A Katsoulidou, D Paraskevis, V Kalapothaki, D Arvanitis, P Karayiannis, V Hadjiconstantiou, A Hatzakis
Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation 1999, 14 (5): 1188-94

BACKGROUND: Haemodialysis patients are at high risk of infection by hepatitis C virus. The aim of this study was to investigate a hepatitis C virus outbreak which occurred in a haemodialysis unit, using epidemiological and molecular methods.

METHODS: Five seroconversions to hepatitis C virus antibody (anti-HCV) were observed over a 6 month period and these were added to the four previously recorded anti-HCV-positive patients. All nine patients involved in the outbreak were tested for HCV RNA by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction and hepatitis C genotype determination was accomplished by a reverse hybridization assay. Furthermore, part of the NS5 region of hepatitis C genome (nucleotide positions 7904-8304) was amplified and sequenced in all HCV RNA-positive patients. Then, phylogenetic analysis of the nucleotide sequences obtained was carried out in order to investigate any possible epidemiological linkage among patients. Detailed epidemiological records were also available for all haemodialysis patients.

RESULTS: Samples from all five incident cases and three out of four prevalent HCV infections were found positive for HCV RNA. HCV genotyping studies revealed that all incident cases were classified as 4c/d, whereas one and two prevalent cases were 1a and 4c/d respectively. Sequence comparisons and phylogenetic tree analysis revealed that six of the patients harboured very similar strains and clustered together, including all incident and one prevalent case, which was implicated as index case. Further epidemiological analysis was consistent with patient to patient transmission.

CONCLUSIONS: Molecular and epidemiological analysis suggested that horizontal nosocomial patient to patient transmission was the most likely explanation for the virus spread within the haemodialysis unit under study.

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