BACKGROUND: Outbreaks of Acute Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) among men who have sex with men (MSM) have been reported in Europe and, recently, in Italy. From July 2008 through January 2010, 162 HAV infections were diagnosed at National Institute for Infectious Diseases, Rome, Italy, with high male-to-female ratio (M:F=7.5).
OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to characterize viral strains involved in this outbreak.
STUDY DESIGN: The sequences of VP1-2A junction of HAV genome, obtained from 67/97 HAV-RNA-positive samples, were used for phylogenetic analysis.
RESULTS: All but 1 of the HAV sequences were genotype 1A, 1 was genotype 1B. A monophyletic cluster, including 59/66 genotype IA sequences, was identified by phylogenetic analysis. This cluster included also 2 HAV strains isolated in Germany (2007) and France (2008) from MSM, that, in turn, were reported to be genetically correlated to HAV strains circulating in Tuscany in 2008. Among the males harboring an HAV strain belonging to the cluster, 62% reported to be MSM, and 25% were HIV-positive, 2 with acute HIV infection.
CONCLUSION: The outbreak occurred in Rome in 2008-2010, involving high proportion of HIV-infected MSM, is sustained by a monophyletic HAV strain, circulating around the same period also in other European countries. Possible factors favouring HAV spread among HIV-infected persons, such as high risk behavior and prolonged fecal excretion, need to be further elucidated. Timely identification of outbreaks with one or the same source of infection may be helpful to implement preventive measures addressing at risk populations.
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