Identification of hepatitis C virus seroconversion resulting from nosocomial transmission on a haemodialysis unit: implications for infection control and laboratory screening

D N Irish, C Blake, J Christophers, J E Craske, L Burnapp, I C Abbs, E M MacMahon, P Muir, J E Banatvala, P Simmonds
Journal of Medical Virology 1999, 59 (2): 135-40
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) seroconversion was detected by routine screening in a haemodialysis patient, Patient 1. Serological investigations were undertaken over the following 3 months to determine if further transmission to other patients on the unit had occurred. No additional cases were identified. Twenty-two haemodialysis patients known to have HCV infection were investigated using molecular epidemiological methods to determine if transmission between patients had occurred. HCV viraemia was demonstrated by polymerase chain reaction in 19 of 22 patients (86%). Genotyping showed that eight patients were infected with genotype 1, three with genotype 3 and eight, including Patient 1, with genotype 2. Phylogenetic analysis of viral sequences from the eight patients with genotype 2 revealed three, including Patient 1,with a novel subtype of HCV type 2, and revealed close similarity between viral sequences from patient 1 and those from one other patient, suggesting transmission. This was consistent with haemodialysis histories. Among other patients with genotype 2, there were two with subtype 2a and three others with three separate novel subtypes, as yet undesignated. With the exception of patient 1, all patients infected with novel subtypes were of Afro-Caribbean origin. The HCV prevalence among patients on the haemodialysis unit was high (14%), which may reflect the ethnicity of our haemodialysis population. This case emphasises the risk of nosocomial transmission and the importance of infection control procedures on haemodialysis units, and highlights the usefulness of molecular epidemiological techniques for the investigation of outbreaks of HCV infection.

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