Iatrogenic transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) by an anesthesiologist: comparative molecular analysis of the HCV-E1 and HCV-E2 hypervariable regions

Yonat Shemer-Avni, Michal Cohen, Ayelet Keren-Naus, Emanuel Sikuler, Negba Hanuka, Arie Yaari, Eithan Hayam, Larisa Bachmatov, Romy Zemel, Ran Tur-Kaspa
Clinical Infectious Diseases 2007 August 15, 45 (4): e32-8

BACKGROUND: Transmission of hepatitis C virus (HCV) from infected health care workers to patients rarely occurs. In 2003, a cluster of patients with HCV infection was identified at a medical center in Israel. All patients had a common history of various surgical procedures performed during the period 2001-2003. All patients had been anesthetized by an anesthesiologist who was an injection drug user and was infected with genotype 2a HCV. Screening was initiated by the hospital to identify newly infected patients with HCV infection and to determine the source of the iatrogenic HCV infection outbreak using comparative molecular analysis of the HCV E1 and HCV E2 hypervariable regions (HVR1 and HVR2).

METHODS: A total of 1200 patients who were anesthetized by the anesthesiologist (the related group) and 873 hospital personnel and patients anesthetized by other anesthetists (the unrelated group) were examined. Serum samples were screened for anti-HCV antibodies, HCV RNA, and genotype. Sequence analysis of HVR1 and HVR2 was performed after reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction.

RESULTS: HCV type 2a was found in 33 patients in the related group but in only 1 patient in the unrelated group. The differences between the sequences isolated from the related group serum samples and the sequences isolated from genotype 2a control group serum samples (obtained from 15 patients) were highly statistically significant. The genetic distances from the anesthesiologist sequence were 1.4%-4.4% in the HVR1 and 0%-3% in the HVR2 in the related group serum samples, whereas in the HCV genotype 2a control group serum samples, the genetic distances were 22%-45% and 10%-35%, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Molecular analysis revealed sequence similarity of HVR1 and HVR2 in the related group, suggesting that the anesthesiologist with chronic HCV infection may have transmitted HCV to 33 patients.

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