Objective: To estimate the prevalence and spectrum of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the general population of Pakistan.
Methods: A total of 6817 blood samples were collected randomly from apparently healthy people in the Punjab, Pakistan from March 1999 to April 2001 and September 2006 to August 2007. Detailed socioeconomic information for each participant was recorded. All the samples were tested for anti-HCV antibodies and all seropositive samples were further tested for HCV RNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
Results: Of the total 6817 serum samples tested, 998 (14.63%) were positive for anti-HCV antibodies. HCV RNA PCR was detected in 494 (49.50%) anti-HCV-positive samples. The prevalence of anti-HCV antibodies were significantly higher in males (15.09%) than in females (12.3%) (P < 0.009). A significant difference was also noted in the anti-HCV prevalence rate among different age groups tested (P < 0.01). In a multivariate logistic regression analysis, injected drug use (adjusted OR 6.6 [95%CI 4.1-9.9]), blood transfusion (adjusted OR 5.9 [95%CI 2.9-12.3]), pricked with a needle (adjusted OR 2.2 [95%CI 1.6-3.1]), re-use of syringes (adjusted OR 1.7 [95%CI 0.8-3.6]) and being over 35 years old (adjusted OR 1.3 [95%CI 0.9-1.9]) were independent risk factors for HCV infection.
Conclusion: The study showed a high seroprevalence of anti-HCV antibodies in a general and apparently healthy population of the Punjab province of Pakistan. Drug injection, blood transfusion and needle stuck were the factors most strongly associated with HCV infection.