February 6, 2013
Hepatitis C is mainly transmitted through contaminated blood and blood products. Since screening for blood transfusion began, the main transmission route is now intravenous drug use, through sharing and re-use of syringes. Gkikas Magiorkinis, from the zoology department at England's Oxford University, and colleagues have shown that hepatitis C-positive intravenous drug users (super-spreaders), are likely to infect approximately 20 additional people, and that half of these transmissions occur in the first two years after the initial infection.
The researchers reviewed epidemiological and molecular data from four hepatitis C epidemics in Greece, using information on 943 patients in treatment studies from 1995 to 2000 and approximately 100 genetic sequences characteristic of the epidemic taken from frozen plasma samples collected between 1996 and 2006. The team used a mathematical model to determine the secondary infection and how long it takes for secondary infection to take place.
Findings show that intravenous drug users early in their infection lead hepatitis C super-spreading. Since there is no vaccine for hepatitis C but there are effective treatments, the researches recommend limiting the impact of the super-spreaders through early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C for intravenous drug users to prevent many transmissions.
The study, "Integrating Phylodynamics and Epidemiology to Estimate Transmission Diversity in Viral Epidemics," was published online in the journal, PLoS Computational Biology (2013; 9 (1): e1002876 doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002876).
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