Transfusion-transmitted hepatitis C: A cluster of cases in transfusion-dependent thalassaemia patients in Sri Lanka.
Perera S., Bonsall D., Niriella MA., Allen A., Peries AC., Nelumdeniya UB., Dissanayake R., Silva I., de Cesare M., Klenerman P., Weatherall DJ., Roberts DJ., Premawardhena AP.
OBJECTIVES: To report the clinical and virologic epidemiology of a recent epidemic of hepatitis C in thalassaemia patients in Sri Lanka. BACKGROUND: Transfusion-dependent thalassaemia patients remain at risk for hepatitis C virus (HCV). Here, we report a cluster of recent HCV infections in Sri Lankan thalassaemia patients and examine the phylogenetic relationship of viral sequences. METHODS: We conducted two prospective cross-sectional surveys of 513 patients in four Sri Lankan thalassaemia centres in 2014/2015 and re-surveyed one centre in 2016. We screened for anti-HCV antibodies using the CTK Biotech enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits and confirmed active infection by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for HCV-RNA. HCV genomes were sequenced by unbiased target enrichment. RESULTS: Anti-HCV antibodies were found in 116/513 (22.6%) of patients initially tested. Active hepatitis C infection was found in 26 patients with no cases of active hepatitis B infection. Of 26 patients with HCV, two were infected with genotype 1(a), and the rest had 3(a). In a single centre (Ragama), 122 patients (120 new cases and two previously tested, but negative) were retested for anti-HCV antibodies. 32/122 (26.2%) patients were seropositive. Twenty-three (23/122; 18.8%) of these new cases were confirmed by HCV PCR (all genotype 3[a]). CONCLUSION: There is a significant cluster of recent HCV cases in multiply transfused thalassaemia patients in several centres in Sri Lanka. Most of the viruses shared a close phylogenetic relationship. The results are consistent with recent continuing transfusion-transmitted HCV infection. Routine surveillance for HCV of chronically transfused patients is required irrespective of screening of blood products.