Hepatitis B virus detected in paper currencies in a densely populated city of India: A plausible source of horizontal transmission?

World J Hepatol. 2020 Oct 27;12(10):775-791. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v12.i10.775.

Abstract

Background: The recent rise in the incidence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections in a densely populated city of eastern India ("mixing vessel" of people of varied socio-economic and immune status) prompted this study. Applying saliva on fingers for enumerating bank notes is a common practice in the Indian subcontinent. Paper notes may be a potential source of "horizontal" transmission of this virus, especially if there are cuts/bruises on the oral mucous membrane or skin.

Aim: To investigate whether paper currencies could be a plausible mode of horizontal transmission of HBV infection.

Methods: Polymerase chain reactions (PCR) followed by nucleotide sequencing was done for the detection of HBV. Hepatitis B virus surface antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay(HBsAg ELISA) was performed on all HBV deoxyribonucleic acid-positive samples to check the detectability of the virus. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) was carried out for visual confirmation of HBV particles in ultracentrifuged/immunoprecipitated samples from currency paper washings.

Results: HBV-specific PCRs on pellets obtained after ultracentrifugation/ immunoprecipitation of the currency paper washings detected potentially intact/viable HBV (genotype D2) in 7.14% of samples (n = 70). AFM gave the visual confirmation of HBV particles in ultracentrifuged/immunoprecipitated samples from currency paper washings. However, HBV isolates from the currency notes could not be detected by HBsAg ELISA.

Conclusion: It is a common practice in the Indian subcontinent to count paper currencies by applying saliva on fingertips. Paper notes may be a potential source of "horizontal" transmission of this virus, especially if there are cuts/bruises on the oral mucous membrane or skin, but it was practically not possible to demonstrate experimentally such transmission. Detection of potentially intact/viable and "occult" HBV from currency poses potential risk of silent transmission of this virus among the general population.

Keywords: Contamination; Hepatitis B virus; Hepatitis B virus surface antigen enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay; Horizontal transmission; Occult hepatitis B virus; Paper currencies.