Epidemic history and iatrogenic transmission of blood-borne viruses in mid-20th century Kinshasa

Catherine Hogan, James Iles, Eric H Frost, Geneviève Giroux, Olivier Cassar, Antoine Gessain, Marie-Josée Dion, Vicky Ilunga, Andrew Rambaut, André-Édouard Yengo-Ki-Ngimbi, Frieda Behets, Oliver G Pybus, Jacques Pépin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND:  The HIV-1 pandemic was ignited in Léopoldville (Kinshasa), Belgian Congo. Factors that jumpstarted its early expansion remain unclear. Non-lethal Hepatitis C and human T-cell lymphotropic viruses can be used to investigate past iatrogenic transmission.

METHODS:  We undertook a cross-sectional study of elderly inhabitants of Kinshasa, with serological assays, amplification and sequencing. Risk factors were assessed through logistic regression. Phylogenetic methods reconstructed the genetic history of HCV.

RESULTS:  217/839 (25.9%) participants were HCV-seropositive; 26 (3.1%) were HTLV-1-seropositive. Amplification products were obtained from 118 HCV-seropositives; subtypes 4k (n=47) and 4r (n=38) were most common. Independent risk factors for HCV subtype 4r were intramuscular tuberculosis therapy, intravenous injections at Hospital A, intravenous injections before 1960 and injections at a colonial-era venereology clinic. Intravenous injections at Hospital B and antimalarials were associated with HCV subtype 4k. Risk factors for HTLV-1 included intravenous injections at Hospitals C or D, and transfusions. Evolutionary analysis of viral sequences revealed independent exponential amplification of HCV subtypes 4r and 4k from the 1950s onwards.

CONCLUSIONS:  Iatrogenic transmission of HCV and HTLV-1 occurred in mid-20(th) century Kinshasa, at the same time and place HIV-1 emerged. Iatrogenic routes may have contributed to the early establishment of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353–360
JournalThe Journal of Infectious Diseases
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2016


  • HCV
  • HTLV-1
  • HIV-1
  • Kinshasa
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • iatrogenic transmission

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