GB Virus C / Hepatitis G Virus (GBV-C/HGV) infection in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa : its diagnosis, distribution and molecular epidemiology.
Recently a new Flavivirus, GB Virus C also referred to as Hepatitis G virus (GBV-C/HGV) was identified in humans with indeterminate hepatitis . Whilst in non-African countries this discovery led to an enormous enthusiasm to elucidate an association with liver disease, very little was known about the prevalence and pathogenicity of GBV-C/HGV infection in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infection is endemic and infection with the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a catastropic health problem. Sera from patients with liver disease (chronic liver disease [n = 98]; alcoholic liver disease [n = 50]); high risk groups (haemodialysis patients [n = 70]; HIV positive mothers and their babies [n = 75]) and control groups (alcoholics without liver disease [n = 35] and blood donors from the four racial groups [n = 232]) were screened for GBV-C/HGV RNA and Anti-E2 antibodies by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and an enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), respectively. Overall 43.9% (43/98) of patients with chronic liver disease; 60 % (30/50) of patients with alcoholic liver disease; 47.1% (33/70) of haemodialysis patients; 60% (21/35) of alcoholics without liver disease and 31.9% (74/232) of blood donors (Africans] 44/76; 5.9%); Asians (5/52; 9.6%); Whites (15/49; 30.6%) and "Coloureds" [mixed origin] (9/54; 16.6%)]) were exposed to GBV-C/HGV infection as determined by the detection of Anti-E2 &/or RNA in serum. There was a significant difference in the prevalence of GBV-C/HGV infection (RNA &/or anti E2) between African blood donors and the other racial groups (p < 0.001), between blood donors and haemodialysis patients (p = 0.02) and or patients with chronic liver disease (p =0.04). There was no significant difference in the prevalence of GBV-C/HGV between African blood donors (45/76, 59.2%) and alcoholics with and without liver disease (30/50, 60% and 21/35, 60%, respectively). Anti-E2 antibodies and GBV-C/HGV RNA were almost mutually exclusive. GBV-C/HGV infected dialysis patients tended to have had more transfusions (p = 0.03) and had a longer duration of dialysis than non infected patients, indicating that the majority of patients on maintenance haemodialysis acquire their GBV-C/HGV infection through the transfusions they receive. There was no evidence for in utero and/or intrapartum transmission of GBV-C/HGY. However, there is some mother-to-infant transmission of GBV-C/HGV, though it is very probable that in KZN GBV-C/HGV is transmitted by as yet undefined non-parenteral routes. Sequence and phylogenetic analysis of the 5' non-coding region (5' NCR) and E2 gene segments of the GBV-C/HGV genome identified an additional "genotype" (Group 5) of GBV-C/HGV that is distinct from all other known GBV-C/HGV sequences (Groups 1-4). Although there is a high prevalence of Group 5 GBV-C/HGV isolates in KZN, there was no significant difference in liver biochemistry between GBV-C/HGV infected and noninfected patients with liver disease or between blood donors in each of the four racial groups. There was no significant differences in CD4 (461.12 ± 163.28 vs 478.42 ± 181.22) and CD8 (680.83 ± 320.36 vs 862.52 ± 354.48) absolute cell counts between HIV positive patients co-infected with GBV-C/HGV and those not infected with GBV-C/HGV, respectively. However, significantly higher relative CD3 [80.0 ± 4.17% vs 70.99 ± 19.79%] (p = 0.015), gamma delta T cells (yLT) [3.22± 1.30% vs 2.15 ± 29.12%] (p = 0.052) and lower CD 30 [35.45 ± 17.86% vs 50.59 ± 9.20%] (p = 0.041) status were observed in GBV-C/HGV positive compared to GBV-C/HGV negative HIV infected patients, respectively. Although there is a high prevalence of novel Group isolates of GBV-C/HGV in KZN, the lack of elevated liver enzymes and clinical hepatitis in blood donors and haemodialysis patients suggests that GBV-C/HGV is not associated with liver disease. HBV and not GBV-C/HGV modifies the course of alcoholic liver disease. The relatively higher number of CD3 cells and increased yLT expression, together with a decrease in CD 30 cells tends to suggest an association with protection and or delayed progression of HIV disease in GBV-C/HGV infected patients. Whilst GBV-C/HGV is not associated with liver disease, it may be an important commensal in HIV infected patients.
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