Study reveals prehistoric journey of hepatitis B

October 11, 2012
Study reveals prehistoric journey of hepatitis B
The hepatitis B virus. Credit: Wellcome Images

(Medical Xpress)—A new study has revealed how the spread of hepatitis B coincides with dates of human migration throughout history, starting around 40 000 years ago. The study could provide a framework for studying the ongoing burden and evolution of the hepatitis B virus.

Hepatitis B is a global public health problem: there are approximately 2 billion infected people worldwide and more than 350 million carriers. There are currently several theories about where the infection in humans might have originated from, but until now there was little evidence to support them.

The new study provides evidence to show that HBV has been following the of human populations for the past 40 000 years. The team of researchers, from the Universities of Athens, Oxford, Sydney and Cambridge, suggest that the virus (HBV) was infecting us on our journey out of Africa.

The team reviewed and analysed the spread of HBV infection with respect to ancient human populations and examined the relationship between the history of evolution of HBV and the of humans. They found that the distributions of HBV genotypes are consistent with prehistoric modern human migrations. The most pronounced increase also correlates with the increase in human population over the past 5000 years.

Dr Dimitrios Paraskevis, who led the study at the University of Athens, said: "This is the first consistent evidence to show when the first 'jumped' into humans." Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis, lead author for the University of Oxford, said: "Our approach could be used to shed light on the history of other infectious diseases and how they have evolved in line with their hosts over time."

The study also looked at non-human strains of the virus found in gibbons, orang-utans and chimpanzees and found evidence that the virus jumped from humans no less than 6000 years ago. The orang-utan strain, in particular, is closely related to the human strain, whereas in chimpanzees it seems the transmission was from an ancient human group that is now extinct.

"Understanding where the virus came from is crucial because it gives us a framework to study how the virus has evolved to become more harmful in over time," Dr Paraskevis added.

Understanding the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases is one of the Wellcome Trust's core strategic research challenges.

The study is published in the journal Hepatology.

Explore further: Androgen boosts hepatitis B virus replication

More information: Paraskevis D, et al. Dating the origin and dispersal of hepatitis B virus infection in humans and primates. Hepatology, 2012.

Related Stories

Androgen boosts hepatitis B virus replication

February 16, 2012
Androgen enhances replication of hepatitis B virus (HBV), rendering males more vulnerable than females to this virus, according to research published in the February Journal of Virology.

Earlier treatment for young patients with chronic hepatitis B more effective in clearing virus

September 6, 2012
Scientists from A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), together with clinical collaborators from London , discovered for the first time that children and young patients with chronic Hepatitis B Virus infection ...

Recommended for you

Two Group A Streptococcus genes linked to 'flesh-eating' bacterial infections

September 22, 2017
Group A Streptococcus bacteria cause a variety of illnesses that range from mild nuisances like strep throat to life-threatening conditions including pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome and the flesh-eating disease formally known ...

Ecosystem approach makes urinary tract infection more treatable

September 22, 2017
The biological term 'ecosystem' is not usually associated with urinary tract infections, but this should change according to Wageningen scientists.

Residents: Frontline defenders against antibiotic resistance?

September 22, 2017
Antibiotic resistance continues to grow around the world, with sometimes disastrous results. Some strains of bacteria no longer respond to any currently available antibiotic, making death by infections that were once easily ...

Individualized diets for irritable bowel syndrome better than placebo

September 21, 2017
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome who follow individualized diets based on food sensitivity testing experience fewer symptoms, say Yale researchers. Their study is among the first to provide scientific evidence for this ...

Superbug's spread to Vietnam threatens malaria control

September 21, 2017
A highly drug resistant malaria 'superbug' from western Cambodia is now present in southern Vietnam, leading to alarming failure rates for dihydroartemisinin (DHA)-piperaquine—Vietnam's national first-line malaria treatment, ...

Investigators may unlock mystery of how staph cells dodge the body's immune system

September 21, 2017
For years, medical investigators have tried and failed to develop vaccines for a type of staph bacteria associated with the deadly superbug MRSA. But a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators shows how staph cells evade the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.