Changing Epidemiology of HCV and HBV Infections in Northern Italy: A Survey in the General Population


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Abstract

AimTo evaluate the hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemiology in the general population of Northern Italy, a cohort of 965 subjects, all residents (including 47 immigrants), were anonymously tested for HBV and HCV infections.Material and MethodsSerum samples were assayed for anti-HCV and anti-HBV markers by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and for HCV-RNA by polymerase chain reaction, and the positive cases were genotyped. HBsAg-positive cases were assayed for HBeAg/anti-HBe, whereas HBsAg negatives were tested for both anti-HBc and anti-HBs.ResultsThe overall prevalence of anti-HCV was 2.6%, with a bimodal distribution characterized by the highest prevalence (12%) in subjects over 75 years old. None of the subjects under 25 years old was anti-HCV positive. Anti-HCV positivity was similar in males and females (2.4% vs. 2.7%). HCV-RNA was positive in 40% of cases and genotype 1 was the most common. The HBsAg prevalence was 1%, with a significant difference according to country of origin (0.8% in Italian subjects vs. 6.4% in immigrants, P=0.01). HBsAg positivity increased significantly with age (R2=0.57, P<0.02). The overall percentages for the prevalence of isolated anti-HBs, anti-HBs+/anti-HBc+, and isolated anti-HBc were 23.8%, 8.4%, and 4.2%, respectively.ConclusionsOur study provides a new picture of HCV and HBV epidemiology in Northern Italy, with these features: (1) a cohort effect showing a reduction of HCV infection in the elderly, possible due to age-related mortality; (2) an unchanged overall prevalence of HBV infection, despite continuing immigration of subjects from endemic countries.

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