Review: molecular epidemiology of hepatitis C virus.
Smith DB., Simmonds P.
Molecular techniques have been used to investigate the epidemiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) at several different levels. At a global level, the time of divergence of the diverse HCV genotypes isolated from different geographical regions has been estimated from the rate of divergence observed among a cohort of individuals infected from a common source. Estimates of more than 300 years for virus subtypes and more than 500-2000 years for virus types are consistent with their current geographical distributions. Analysis of virus sequences has also provided evidence for a common source of infection in several large-scale outbreaks of HCV infection, although where there is evidence that the implicated source contains more than one variant it may be difficult to distinguish individuals infected by different sources. Finally, sequence analysis has been used to investigate the vertical or horizontal transmission of HCV between pairs of individuals. The hypervariable region of the E2 gene is the most informative region to study if samples are available soon after the transmission event, but evidence for more distant events can still be obtained from analysis of genes such as NS5b and E1. Interpretation of some studies is complicated by the conservation of the gene region studied, or by the failure to make comparisons with sequences from epidemiologically unrelated viruses.