1Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO/InBIO), University of Porto, Vairão, Portugal; School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University of Porto (ICBAS-UP), Porto, Portugal. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO/InBIO), University of Porto, Vairão, Portugal.
3Unit for Multidisciplinary Research in Biomedicine (UMIB) at 2School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of the University of Porto (ICBAS-UP), Porto, Portugal; Laboratory for Integrative and Translational Research in Population Health (ITR), Porto, Portugal.
4Faculty of Medicine, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal; Coimbra Hospital and University Center (CHUC), Coimbra, Portugal.
Background: Occult hepatitis C infection (OCI) is characterized by the detection of hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA in hepatocytes and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) without detection in serum. We aimed to evaluate OCI in drug and no drug users who achieved sustained virological response (SVR) after therapy with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) and with HCV spontaneous resolution.
Methods: Twenty-four patients in the AVP group (who achieved a SVR after DAAs therapy), 13 in the NAVP group (with HCV spontaneous resolution) and 7 HCV-RNA positive patients (CPP, control positive group) were included in the study. HCV/OCI-RNA was screened in serum and PBMCs samples of the patients by ddPCR for OCI patients' identification. Plasma and red blood cells (RBCs) samples of the patients were also evaluated for HCV/OCI-RNA detection by ddPCR.
Results: OCI was presented in injection drug users (IDUs) in the AVP (20.8%) and NAVP (23.1%) groups by ddPCR with a higher statistically significant percentage detected in RBCs samples of the patients in the AVP group comparatively to NAVP (p<0.01) and CPP (p < 0.05) groups.
Conclusion: OCI was identified in IDUs patients of the AVP and NAVP groups by ddPCR. These results suggest that OCI patients in the AVP group might not be entirely cured, and that OCI patients in the NAVP group were not identified at clinical evaluation time when just serum samples were analysed. A higher percentage of HCV/OCI-RNA was detected in RBCs samples. Overall results recommends that HCV/OCI identification in patients with DAAs therapy and spontaneous resolution of HCV infection should be studied more accurately in future and in larger patient groups if possible. Additionally, suggest also PBMCs and RBCs samples as predictors for HCV/OCI diagnosis and management.