Abstract: Background: During the years preceding this study, we noticed a relatively unusual high number of individuals with elevated alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels in O'Brien, a small rural town in Argentina. Moreover, four individuals from this town underwent liver transplantation owing to hepatitis C virus (HCV)-induced liver cirrhosis. These findings prompted us to conduct a large population-based survey to evaluate the prevalence of HCV in this community.
Methods and Results: A total of 1637 individuals were studied. The overall HCV-seroprevalence was 5.7% (93/1637), being slightly higher in men (45/769; 5.9%) than in women (48/868; 5.5%). HCV seroprevalence increased with age, reaching a peak rate of 23.9% among individuals between 61 and 70 years of age. HCV RNA was present in 82.7% of all HCV seropositive individuals identified and 100% of them were infected with genotype 1b. ALT elevations were detected in 44% of HCV+ patients and were only observed among viremic individuals. Hepatitis B virus infection was also prevalent (52%) among HCV-seropositive patients. The most common risk factor associated with HCV transmission identified was the apparent use of inadequately sterilized glass syringes by a health care provider serving the community; however, other risk factors may have also played a role in the dissemination of HCV.
Conclusions: Our findings provide an explanation for the relative high number of individuals with elevated ALT levels observed in this community and form the basis of future prospective studies on the natural history of genotype 1b infection.