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TITLE: Prevalence of mixed infection by different hepatitis C virus genotypes in patients with hepatitis C virus-related chronic liver disease.

Multiple infection by different hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotypes may be of great clinico-pathologic interest. In this study we determined the effective prevalence of coinfections by two or more HCV genotypes in 213 subjects with HCV-positive chronic hepatitis by using genotype-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR), genotype-specific probe hybridization, and direct sequencing.

The most prevalent genotype was HCV-1b (54%). HCV-2 (a/c) was also prevalent (27%), and types 1a and 3a were found in 5% and 3% of patients, respectively. A mixed infection was detected in 23 patients (10.8%): 4 out of 23 were coinfected by types 1a + 1b, while the remaining 19 patients had a b + 2 (a/c) mixed infection. Further analysis based on restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) on type-specific PCR products was used to verify genotyping results. Only four coinfections (1a + 1b in 2 patients and 1b + 2 (a/c) in the remaining 2 patients, respectively) were confirmed by enzyme cleavage.

All patients with true coinfection had long-lasting infection and liver cirrhosis. Both true and false mixed infections resulting from RFLP analysis were confirmed by direct sequencing of type-specific amplification products. We also determined a recurrent C/T transversion at position 618 in all sequenced samples. In 4 cases another point mutation (G/A at position 626) was found, reducing the number of mismatches between HCV-2 and HCV-1b from 4 to 3 (or 2). Interestingly, all HCV-2 isolates sequenced showed the highest degree of nucleotide homology with HCV-2 subtype c, confirming the relatively high prevalence of this subtype in Italy.

In conclusion, we showed the possibility of multiple infection by different HCV types in the general population of chronically infected patients without particular risk factors, even if in a low percentage of cases. Further studies are needed to assess the clinical relevance of chronic HCV infection with multiple genotypes.

AUTHOR: Giannini C, Giannelli F, Monti M, Careccia G, Marrocchi ME, Laffi G, Gentilini P, Zignego AL, Institute of Internal Medicine, University of Florence School of Medicine, Italy.
SOURCE: J Lab Clin Med 1999 Jul;134(1):68-73

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