Background/aims: The hepatitis C virus genotypes have been shown to be differently distributed between distinct geographical areas and to be associated with different clinical presentations. In the present study we investigated the distribution of HCV genotypes in 379 German patients with chronic hepatitis C in relation to age, sex, route of infection, liver histology and viremia.
Methods: Typing of HCV was done using restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis as well as a DNA enzyme immunoassay. HCV RNA concentrations were determined by quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Liver biopsies were performed in 187 patients and the histological activity was graded by the Knodell score.
Results: Seventy percent were infected with genotype 1 (20% subtype 1a, 80% subtype 1b), 4% with genotype 2 and 26% with genotype 3 (all subtype 3a). Genotype 3a and 1a infection was significantly associated with intravenous drug abuse. In contrast, genotype 1 predominated in patients with post-transfusion hepatitis and infection of unknown origin. A changing relative prevalence of HCV genotypes in relation to age was also observed. Patients with genotype 3 infection showed significantly lower HCV RNA levels and a lower mean histological activity score as compared to patients with genotype 1 and genotype 2. However, using multivariate analysis, only age and mode of transmission but not histological activitiy score were shown to be independent variables.
Conclusions: Our study confirms previous reports from other countries that HCV variants can be classified into a relatively small number of discrete genotypes, and that the subtype 1b clearly predominates. However, we found evidence that there is a changing relative prevalence of HCV genotypes in relation to age, and that the mode of transmission is reflected in the predominance of certain genotypes.