Prevalence of hereditary hemochromatosis in a Massachusetts corporation: Is Celtic origin a risk factor?



The prevalence of homozygous hereditary hemochromatosis (HHC) is estimated at 1:250 in Caucasian adults. Little is known about ethnic subpopulations that might be at increased risk for this disease. HLA data have suggested a Celtic origin for HHC. Screening for HHC was offered to all employees of the Massachusetts Polaroid Corporation. Participants with a transferrin saturation of >55% or >45% and an elevated serum ferritin concentration on two screenings were referred for liver biopsy. The diagnosis of HHC was based on histological criteria, quantitative hepatic iron determination, hepatic iron index, and the phlebotomy requirement for iron depletion. Participants completed a questionnaire regarding their ethnic background. Two thousand two hundred ninety-four employees were screened, and 5 cases of HHC were detected. All 5 cases involved Caucasian men, yielding a prevalence of 1:395 for the Caucasian population. Four of the 5 cases were of 100% British-Irish ancestry based on the country of origin of their grandparents. Additional analysis revealed that the majority of grandparents of all 4 individuals came from Ireland or Wales. The exact two-tailed trend test showed a significant association of HHC with Celtic background (P = .012). The estimated cost of screening per patient identified was $18,041. Polaroid Corporation has a high representation of employees of British-Irish ancestry. Our data suggest that they are at high risk for developing HHC. A significant association of HHC with Celtic ancestry was found in this subpopulation, supporting the concept of a Celtic origin for this disease.