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Keywords:

  • epidemiology;
  • hepatitis antibodies;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • hepatitis C viruses;
  • hepatitis C;
  • viral core proteins

ABSTRACT

In an annual survey for liver function tests in persons aged > xs35 years in Iwate Prefecture, Japan, a town was identified where high levels of alanine aminotransferase abounded. Of 5152 inhabitants aged > 35 years in this town, antibodies to hepatitis C virus (HCV) determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay with HCV core peptides were detected in 798 (15.5%) people, hepatitis B surface antigen was detected in 47 (0.9%) people and antibodies to hepatitis B surface antigen and/or hepatitis B core antigen unaccompanied by surface antigenaemia were detected in 1748 (33.9%) people. Antibodies to HCV core peptides correlated closely with the antibodies detected by passive haem-agglutination with recombinant HCV proteins of the second generation. Antibodies to HCV core peptides were particularly common in one of the nine districts of the town (district 8), where 276 (45.3%) of 609 inhabitants tested positive; there were no differences in the frequency of serological markers of hepatitis B virus (HEV) infection among residents in the nine districts. Of the 798 individuals with antibodies to HCV core peptides, 257 (32.2%) were found to have elevated transaminase levels. A history of transfusion was associated with a high frequency of antibodies to HCV core peptides, except in district 8 where such antibodies were equally frequent in residents irrespective of transfusions. These results indicate an epidemiology of HCV distinct from that of HBV in this town and a very local spread of HCV, as well as a high frequency of hepatic injuries in individuals with antibodies to HCV.