Background: ß-thalassemia is one of the most common inherited blood disorders in the world and a major deterrent to the public health of Bangladesh. The management of thalassemia patients requires lifelong frequent blood transfusion and the available treatment options are unsatisfactory. A national policy on thalassemia prevention is mandatory in Bangladesh. However, precise and up-to-date information on the frequency of ß-thalassemia carriers are missing due to lack of accurate diagnostic approaches, limited access to information and absence of national screening program. This study aims to determine the nationwide carrier frequency of hemoglobin E (HbE) and β- thalassemia and mutation spectrum among the carriers using molecular, hematological and biochemical methods.
Methods: The study enrolled a total of 1877 individuals (60.1% male and 39.9% female) aged between 18 and 35 years. Total sample size and its division-wise breakdown were calculated in proportion to national and division-wise population. Venous blood was collected and subjected to CBC analysis and Hb-electrophoresis for each participant. Serum ferritin was measured to detect coexistence of iron deficiency anemia with thalassemia carrier. DNA-based High Resolution Melting (HRM) curve analysis was performed for confirmation of carrier status by mutation detection.
Results: Of 11.89% (95% CI, 10.43-13.35) carriers of β-globin gene mutations, 8.68% (95% CI, 7.41-9.95) had HbE trait (ETT) and 2.24% (95% CI, 1.57-2.91) had beta-thalassemia trait (BTT). Among eight divisions, Rangpur had the highest carrier frequency of 27.1% (ETT-25%, BTT-2.1%), whereas Khulna had the lowest frequency of 4.2% (ETT-4.2% only). Moreover, α- thalassemia, HbD trait, HbE disease, hereditary persistence of HbF were detected in 0.11, 0.16, 0.43 and 0.16% participants, respectively. HRM could identify two individuals with reported pathogenic mutations in both alleles who were erroneously interpreted as carriers by hematological indices. Finally, a total of nine different mutations including a novel mutation (c.151A > G) were detected in the β-globin gene.
Conclusions: Since carrier frequency for both HbE and β-thalassemia is alarmingly high in Bangladesh, a nationwide awareness and prevention program should be made mandatory to halt the current deteriorating situations. Mutation-based confirmation is highly recommended for the inconclusive cases with conventional carrier screening methods to avoid any faulty detection of thalassemia carriers.
Keywords: Carrier frequency; Detection accuracy; HRM curve analysis; National policy; Novel mutation; ß-thalassemia.