Publication: Relapse or reinfection after failing hepatitis C direct acting antiviral treatment: Unravelled by phylogenetic analysis.
Despite high response rates associated to hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment, no protective immunity is acquired, allowing for reinfection and continued infectiousness. Distinguishing between relapse and reinfection is crucial for patient counselling and to choose the most appropriate retreatment. Here, refined phylogenetic analysis using multiple genes served to assess genotype and reinfection for 53 patients for whom the virus was sampled before start of therapy and at time of sustained virological response evaluation at week 12. At baseline, genotypes were determined as HCV1a (41.5%), HCV1b (24.5%), HCV4 (18.9%) and HCV3a (15.1%), while six cases revealed to be discordantly assigned by phylogeny and commercial assays. Overall, 60.4% was co-infected with HIV. The large majority was classified as people who inject drugs (78.6%), often co-infected with HIV. Transmission was sexual in seven cases, of which five in HIV-positive men-who-have-sex-with-men. Overall, relapse was defined for 44 patients, while no conclusion was drawn for four patients. Five patients were reinfected with a different HCV strain, of which three with a different genotype, showing that phylogeny is needed not only to determine the genotype, but also to distinguish between relapse and intra-subtype reinfection. Of note, phylogenies are more reliable when longer fragments of the viral genome are being sequenced.