High incidence of the hepatitis C virus recombinant 2k/1b in Georgia: Recommendations for testing and treatment

Hepatol Res. 2015 Dec;45(13):1292-8. doi: 10.1111/hepr.12505. Epub 2015 Mar 24.


Aim: The first hepatitis C virus (HCV) recombinant, RF2k/1b, was initially described from Russia and has since then been identified from patients in Ireland, Estonia, Uzbekistan and Cyprus. Many of these patients originated from Georgia; however, there is no information on its prevalence in Georgia or its susceptibility to antiviral treatment.

Methods: We retrospectively sequenced the non-structural region 5B (NS5B) of the HCV genome in samples from 72 Georgian patients, 36 of whom had been treated with pegylated interferon and ribavirin.

Results: The HCV genotype was determined using the Versant HCV Genotype v2 kit. Based on this typing, 32 patients (44.4%) were infected with genotype 1, 21 (29.1%) genotype 2 and 19 (26.3%) genotype 3. Partial NS5B of these strains was sequenced and analyzed for type, with concordant genotype results for all type 1 and 3 strains. Discrepant results were observed for genotyped 2 strains, with 16 (76%) having NS5B of subtype 1b. On phylogenetic analysis, 15 NS5B sequences of these strains were found in a clade formed by recombinant RF2k/1b strains. The remaining discordant sequence was found within a clade formed by 1b strains.

Conclusion: Our findings show that the RF2k/1b recombinant strain is common among Georgian patients previously assumed to be infected with genotype 2. Because genotyping is mainly performed to decide treatment strategies, there is a need to determine the genotype by analysis of at least two genomic regions in strains from Georgian patients considered infected with genotype 2 based on standard HCV genotyping methods.

Keywords: hepatitis C virus sequence; hybrid virus; interferon treatment; phylogenetic analysis.