A new study from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research and collaborators and published in the Journal Hepatology of the discovery of three new hepatitis C virus (HCV) strains circulating in the general population in sub-Saharan Africa.
Researchers say the new strains could inform hepatitis C treatment and vaccine development worldwide.
To investigate HCV in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers carefully screened the blood of 7751 people from the general population in Uganda and, using molecular methods, found undiagnosed HCV in 20 of these patients. They sequenced the HCV genomes from these and two further blood samples from people born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and discovered three completely new strains of the virus, in addition to some strains seen in the west.
The researchers discovered that current screening methods using antibody detection were inaccurate in Uganda and that detection of the virus itself would likely be a superior method for diagnosing the infection in high-risk populations. The researchers found that many of the strains present carry mutations in genes known to be associated with resistance to some commonly used antiviral drugs, proving that careful approaches are needed to diagnose and treat HCV effectively in Africa.
Dr George S. Mgomella, joint first author on the paper from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, said: “In the largest study of hepatitis C in the general population in sub-Saharan Africa to date, we found a diverse range of hepatitis C virus strains circulating, and also discovered new strains that had never been seen before. Further research is needed as some antiviral drugs are effective against specific strains of hepatitis C virus and may not work as well in these populations.”
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is transmitted mainly by needles and exposure to blood products. Infection can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer, and nearly 400,000 people die from hepatitis C each year. Globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C infection, 10 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and there is no current vaccine.
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