A new study on Hepatitis C virus in West Africa entitled “High Frequency of Active HCV Infection Among Seropositive Cases in West Africa and Evidence for Multiple Transmission Pathways” was published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases by Dr. Jennifer Layden, principal investigator of the study, from the Division of Infectious Disease at the Loyola University Medical Center, along with colleagues.
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has the most elevated worldwide frequency estimates for hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C affects more than 180 million individuals, with West Africa being a highly affected region, while HIV/AIDS and Ebola affects, respectively, 34 million and 30,000 individuals. However, almost nothing is known about prevention campaigns and research funding concerning HCV compared with HIV/AIDS and Ebola infections. While in the western countries HCV is mainly transmitted by intravenous (IV) drug use, in countries like Ghana in West Africa region, transmission is associated with cultural and daily practices such as tribal scarring, home birthing and traditional circumcision ceremonies.
This study was performed by HepNet, an international multidisciplinary group of physicians and scientists that prospectively analyzed 363 previous blood donors, where 180 and 183 subjects had, respectively, a rapid screen assay [RSA] positive and negative at time of donation. They evaluated in these samples the level of active infection and risk factors for infection at a teaching hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. The enrolled individuals had repeat blood testing and answered questions concerning risk factors.
“This is a small study conducted at a blood bank in a teaching hospital in Ghana,” said Dr. Layden in the press release. Dr. Layden said that they are extending the study to 5,000 people in Ghana and the main objective is to know the real HCV infection burden and establish strategies for intervention and prevention.
The researchers found that the incidence of HCV active infection was between 74.4% and 88%, depending on the criteria for serologic assessment. The individuals from the northern and upper regions of Ghana had higher risks of infection compared with individuals from other areas. The main risk factors were circumcision, home birth, tribal scarring, and hepatitis B virus infection.
“The other important finding was that a high percentage of individuals who tested positive for HCV had evidence of active infection,” said Dr. Layden.
Dr. Layden said that HCV is a chronic disease that if not treated leads to chronic liver disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis. She added that while the incidence of several types of cancers is declining, the rates of liver cancer are increasing globally.
“Those studies helped to call attention to the widespread infection rate and resulted in getting infected Egyptians affordable medical treatment,” said Dr. Layden. “We in HepNet hope our studies will do the same in Ghana and other West African countries.”