Investigating the endemic transmission of the hepatitis C virus.
Pybus OG., Markov PV., Wu A., Tatem AJ.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) infects at least 3% of people worldwide and is a leading global cause of liver disease. Although HCV spread epidemically during the 20th century, particularly by blood transfusion, it has clearly been present in human populations for several centuries. Here we attempt to redress the paucity of investigation into how long-term endemic transmission of HCV has been maintained. Such transmission not only represents the 'natural' route of infection but also contributes to new infections today. As a first step, we investigate the hypothesis that HCV can be mechanically transmitted by biting arthropods. Firstly, we use a combined bioinformatic and geographic approach to build a spatial database of endemic HCV infection and demonstrate that this can be used to geographically compare endemic HCV with the range distributions of potential vector species. Second, we use models from mathematical epidemiology to investigate if the parameters that describe the biting behaviour of vectors are consistent with a proposed basic reproduction number (R0) for HCV, and with the sustained transmission of the virus by mechanical transmission. Our analyses indicate that the mechanical transmission of HCV is plausible and that much further research into endemic HCV is needed.