Next-Generation Sequencing Reveals Frequent Opportunities for Exposure to Hepatitis C Virus in Ghana.


Globally, hepatitis C Virus (HCV) infection is responsible for a large proportion of persons with liver disease, including cancer. The infection is highly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. West Africa was identified as a geographic origin of two HCV genotypes. However, little is known about the genetic composition of HCV populations in many countries of the region. Using conventional and next-generation sequencing (NGS), we identified and genetically characterized 65 HCV strains circulating among HCV-positive blood donors in Kumasi, Ghana. Phylogenetic analysis using consensus sequences derived from 3 genomic regions of the HCV genome, 5'-untranslated region, hypervariable region 1 (HVR1) and NS5B gene, consistently classified the HCV variants (n = 65) into genotypes 1 (HCV-1, 15%) and genotype 2 (HCV-2, 85%). The Ghanaian and West African HCV-2 NS5B sequences were found completely intermixed in the phylogenetic tree, indicating a substantial genetic heterogeneity of HCV-2 in Ghana. Analysis of HVR1 sequences from intra-host HCV variants obtained by NGS showed that three donors were infected with >1 HCV strain, including infections with 2 genotypes. Two other donors share an HCV strain, indicating HCV transmission between them. The HCV-2 strain sampled from one donor was replaced with another HCV-2 strain after only 2 months of observation, indicating rapid strain switching. Bayesian analysis estimated that the HCV-2 strains in Ghana were expanding since the 16th century. The blood donors in Kumasi, Ghana, are infected with a very heterogeneous HCV population of HCV-1 and HCV-2, with HCV-2 being prevalent. The detection of three cases of co- or super-infections and transmission linkage between 2 cases suggests frequent opportunities for HCV exposure among the blood donors and is consistent with the reported high HCV prevalence. The conditions for effective HCV-2 transmission existed for ~ 3-4 centuries, indicating a long epidemic history of HCV-2 in Ghana.

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