Transfusion-transmitted hepatitis C: A cluster of cases in transfusion-dependent thalassaemia patients in Sri Lanka

Transfus Med. 2020 Oct;30(5):377-383. doi: 10.1111/tme.12660. Epub 2020 Jan 8.


Objectives: To report the clinical and virologic epidemiology of a recent epidemic of hepatitis C in thalassaemia patients in Sri Lanka.

Background: Transfusion-dependent thalassaemia patients remain at risk for hepatitis C virus (HCV). Here, we report a cluster of recent HCV infections in Sri Lankan thalassaemia patients and examine the phylogenetic relationship of viral sequences.

Methods: We conducted two prospective cross-sectional surveys of 513 patients in four Sri Lankan thalassaemia centres in 2014/2015 and re-surveyed one centre in 2016. We screened for anti-HCV antibodies using the CTK Biotech enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits and confirmed active infection by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for HCV-RNA. HCV genomes were sequenced by unbiased target enrichment.

Results: Anti-HCV antibodies were found in 116/513 (22.6%) of patients initially tested. Active hepatitis C infection was found in 26 patients with no cases of active hepatitis B infection. Of 26 patients with HCV, two were infected with genotype 1(a), and the rest had 3(a). In a single centre (Ragama), 122 patients (120 new cases and two previously tested, but negative) were retested for anti-HCV antibodies. 32/122 (26.2%) patients were seropositive. Twenty-three (23/122; 18.8%) of these new cases were confirmed by HCV PCR (all genotype 3[a]).

Conclusion: There is a significant cluster of recent HCV cases in multiply transfused thalassaemia patients in several centres in Sri Lanka. Most of the viruses shared a close phylogenetic relationship. The results are consistent with recent continuing transfusion-transmitted HCV infection. Routine surveillance for HCV of chronically transfused patients is required irrespective of screening of blood products.