Background: New oral treatments with very high cure rates have the potential to revolutionize global management of hepatitis C virus (HCV), but population-based data on HCV infection are missing in many low and middle-income countries (LMIC).
Methods: Between 2004 and 2009, dried blood spots were collected from age-stratified female population samples of 9 countries: China, Mongolia, Poland, Guinea, Nepal, Pakistan, Algeria, Georgia and Iran. HCV antibodies were detected by a multiplex serology assay using bead-based technology.
Results: Crude HCV prevalence ranged from 17.4% in Mongolia to 0.0% in Iran. In a pooled model adjusted by age and country, in which associations with risk factors were not statistically heterogeneous across countries, the only significant determinants of HCV positivity were age (prevalence ratio for ≥45 versus <35 years = 2.84, 95%CI 2.18-3.71) and parity (parous versus nulliparous = 1.73, 95%CI 1.02-2.93). Statistically significant increases in HCV positivity by age, but not parity, were seen in each of the three countries with the highest number of HCV infections: Mongolia, Pakistan, China. There were no associations with sexual partners nor HPV infection. HCV prevalence in women aged ≥45 years correlated well with recent estimates of female HCV-related liver cancer incidence, with the slight exception of Pakistan, which showed a higher HCV prevalence (5.2%) than expected.
Conclusions: HCV prevalence varies enormously in women worldwide. Medical interventions/hospitalizations linked to childbirth may have represented a route of HCV transmission, but not sexual intercourse. Combining dried blood spot collection with high-throughput HCV assays can facilitate seroepidemiological studies in LMIC where data is otherwise scarce.
Keywords: Epidemiology; Hepatitis C virus; Liver cancer; Serology.