Subtype 1b is the most common strain of Hepatitis C virus (HCV) in China. Here, the molecular epidemiology and epidemic history of this strain were investigated by conducting phylogenetic and population genetic analyses of E1 and NS5B gene sequences sampled from nine Chinese cities. The phylogenetic analysis indicated the presence of two clusters of Chinese strains that did not include reference strains from other countries, suggesting that these clusters represent two independent chains of HCV transmission within China. The remaining Chinese isolates were more closely related to reference strains from other countries. The date of origin and past population dynamics of the two groups were investigated using a new population genetic method, the Bayesian skyline plot. The estimated dates of origin of both groups coincide with the period of the Chinese 'Cultural Revolution' during the years 1966-1976. Both groups grew at a rapid exponential rate between ∼ 1970 and ∼ 1990, after which transmission slowed considerably. Possible explanations for the groups' fast spread and subsequent slowdown are discussed, including parenteral transmission by unsafe injection, iatrogenic transmission by infected blood or blood products and improvements in blood safety since 1990. These results shed light on HCV transmission in China and may help to predict the future burden of HCV-related disease in the country.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes