The aim of this study was to characterize the current molecular epidemiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection and evaluate the evolutionary patterns of HCV subtypes in Beijing, China, among different subpopulations.
The whole blood samples and behavioral data were collected from a total of 10,354 subjects, including drug users (DUs), men who have sex with men (MSM), and the general population, in Beijing from 2010 to 2011. Samples were tested for HCV infection using both enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and real-time PCR. All viremic subjects were then sequenced by nested PCR over core/E1 and NS5B regions. Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analysis was performed by BEAST software.
In total, 217 subjects (2.1%) were tested positive for HCV by antibody or vRNA-based testing. HCV prevalence rates for DUs, MSM, and the general population were 26.2%, 0.54%, and 0.37%, respectively. The 156 HCV RNA-positive samples were sequenced. Nine HCV genotypes, including 1a, 1b, 2a, 3a, 3b, 6a, 6n, 6u and 6v, were detected. The most prevalent subtypes were 3b (36.09%), 1b (32.54%), and 3a (16.57%). Bayesian evolutionary analysis estimated that the time of introduction of subtype 1b into Beijing was 2004 (95% CI: 1997.7, 2007.7), with subtypes 3a and 3b being introduced later in 2006. Evolutionary analyses further suggested that subtype 1b from Beijing and Shanghai were closely related, whereas subtype 3a sequences were more similar with sequences from Yunnan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Jiangsu. Subtype 3b sequences were closely related to those from Yunnan, Guangdong, and Hong Kong.
Thus, the current HCV epidemic in Beijing is complex, heavily affecting DUs, and involving multiple genotypes that likely spread from different regions in China with its large migrant population.