The molecular epidemiology of hepatitis B in the Indigenous people of northern Australia
- Financial support: JSD, JD, and ST received salary support from the NH&MRC for this work. JD also received salary support from The Sidney Myer Fund.
Dr Joshua S Davis, Global and Tropical Health Division, Menzies School of Health Research, John Matthews Building, Royal Darwin Hospital Campus, Rocklands Drive, Tiwi, Darwin, NT 0810, Australia. Email Joshua.Davis@menzies.edu.au
Background and Aim
The hepatitis B surface antigen was first described in the blood of an Indigenous Australian man, yet little is known about its molecular epidemiology in this population, in which it is endemic. The study aimed to determine the clinical and molecular epidemiology of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in Indigenous people from northern Australia.
Following ethics approval and informed consent, blood specimens and clinical details from Indigenous adults known to be infected with HBV and who were born and raised in Indigenous communities in northern Australia were obtained. HBV genotypes were determined in isolates with sufficient HBV DNA by polymerase chain reaction by sequencing of the polymerase/surface gene.
Between June 2010 and June 2012, 65 patients were recruited from six different regions of northern Australia. Thirty-two patients (49%) were hepatitis B e-antigen-positive, and 48% were hepatitis B e-antibody-positive. No patients were found to be coinfected with hepatitis C virus or human immunodeficiency virus. Of the 49 samples with sufficient viral load for genotyping, 100% were infected with genotype C4, previously only reported from two Indigenous Australians. All isolates had wild-type polymerase gene sequences despite 14 currently or previously receiving antiviral treatment. The canonical sG145R vaccine-escape variant was detected in the surface antigen of virus from two patients.
The exclusive HBV genotype in this ancient population is genotype C4. Whole genome sequencing and clinical follow-up of this cohort are in progress, with the aim of exploring the clinical significance of these findings.