High Prevalence of Hepatitis C Infection among Blood Donors in Northeastern Thailand

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  • Department of Immunology, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Department of Clinical Pathology, Khonkaen Regional Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand

Previous studies on the prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in Asian countries reported an average prevalence of less than 1.5%. In this study a combination of second- and third-generation enzyme immunoassays (EIAs), immunoblot analysis, and polymerase chain reaction was used to evaluate the prevalence of HCV infection in 3,255 volunteer blood donors in northeastern Thailand. Antibodies to HCV were detected in 6.5% of male blood donors and 0.9% of female blood donors, giving an overall prevalence of 5.6% in this population (gender-adjusted prevalence of 3.7%). The prevalence was higher in males than in females (P < 0.0001) and increased with age, reaching a peak at 31–40 years of age. More than 90% of the EIA-positive samples tested positive by immunoblot analysis, giving an estimated minimal prevalence of antibodies to HCV in the blood donors of 5.2%. Approximately 80% of the EIA-positive blood donors were viremic as determined by the presence of HCV RNA detected by the polymerase chain reaction, indicating that at least 4.5% of volunteer blood donors had detectable HCV RNA and were considered potentially infectious. The prevalence of HCV infection in this population was higher than that in previous reports for central and northern Thailand, while the prevalence of HBV infection was similar to that in other regions of the country. This study clearly demonstrated a very high prevalence of HCV infection in northeastern Thailand, especially in the male population.