Phylogenetic analysis of hepatitis C virus isolates from hemodialysis patients.
A high prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has been reported in hemodialysis patients. Main risk factors for transmission are previous blood transfusions and possibly nosocomial infections within the dialytic environment. In the present study 224 hemodialysis patients from the same department were tested for the presence of anti-HCV antibodies and HCV-RNA. The presence of anti-HCV in hemodialysis patients was correlated with a history of more than 10 blood transfusions (P = 0.001) and with a duration of hemodialysis treatment for more than 10 years (P = 0.001). The issue of possible patient-to-patient infection was addressed by sequence analysis of all HCV-RNA positive hemodialysis patients (N = 14) together with a control panel of HCV isolates from 56 unrelated non-hemodialysis patients with hepatitis C from the same geographical area. Subsequent phylogenetic analysis of nucleotide sequences obtained from the 5'-noncoding region and the nonstructural NS-5 region of the HCV genome revealed that only two hemodialysis patients were infected by a highly related HCV isolate. The remaining HCV-RNA positive hemodialysis patients including those without previous blood transfusions were all infected by phylogenetically-distant HCV isolates, providing evidence against a nosocomial transmission route. The data of the present study show that molecular epidemiological techniques are important to investigate the issue of nosocomial infection. In our hemodialysis unit patient-to-patient infection appears uncommon and draws attention towards other possible (such as, blood products such as human serum albumin, immunoglobulins) or even yet unrecognized transmission routes.
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