Hepatitis E virus infection in north-east Italy: serological study in the open population and groups at risk


Transfusional Centre Community Hospital, Via Madonna Marina 500, 30019 Chioggia (Venice), Italy.


SUMMARY. Developed western countries are considered to be relatively free from endemic foci of hepatitis E virus (HEV) infections. The aim of this study was to assess the seroepidemiology of HEV in north-east Italy. Of the 2361 individuals studied 1889 were representative of the general population and 472 were from groups at high risk for viral infections: 279 drug users and 193 patients on chronic haemodialysis. All sera were tested for hepatitis C virus antibody (HCVAb), human immunodeficiency virus antibody (HIVAb) and for hepatitis B virus (HBV) serology. Two solid-phase enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) were used to study the seroepidemiology of HEV IgG, the first (using recombinant antigens) for screening, the second (using synthetic peptides) for confirmation of initially reactive samples. The prevalence of circulating hepatitis E virus antibody (HEVAb) was 2.6% in the open population, 5.4% among drug users and 9.3% among patients on chronic haemodialysis. In the open population a positive relationship between age and prevalence of HEVAb was observed. A relationship between presence of HEVAb and serological evidence of previous HBV or HCV infections was also observed in this study. It was concluded that HEV infections are present in north-east Italy and are more frequent among subjects at risk for blood-borne viral infections. The positive correlation, observed in the open population, between age and prevalence of HEVAb suggests the presence of a cohort effect.