Objective: The goal of the study was to determine the characteristics of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections in the north-east part of Algeria. Chronic HBV infection remains a global public health issue and Algeria is considered as an intermediate prevalence area. Improving our knowledge on the epidemiology of this infection is a prerequisite to adopt the best preventive and curative strategy. Material and methods: We have studied 75 chronic hepatitis B patients from north-east Algeria. The characteristics of HBV strains were determined by use of serological and molecular testing. Genes encoding part of the precore, the surface and the polymerase were sequenced and phylogenetically analyzed. Results: Median age of the patients was 35 years and 80% of them had normal transaminase level. Liver histological lesions were identified in 63% of the patients who benefited from a liver biopsy and 21% of them had cirrhosis. Median viral replication was 3.9 Log IU/ml and 87% of patients had a "precore" mutant serological profile without HBe Ag. Genotype D was predominant (93%) followed by genotype A (5%) and E for one patient. Algerian strains clustered independently from other genotype D reference sequences, suggesting a possible new D subtype. Within the "precore" region, only 16% of the strains did not show any mutation at positions 1762/1764 and 1896. Conclusion: In this original set of patients from north Algeria, the virologic characteristics of HBV are comparable to what has been described in other Mediterranean countries. Our study raises several important aspects with regard to the prevention and treatment of chronic hepatitis B in Algeria. © 2008 Elsevier Masson SAS. All rights reserved.
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