An Evaluation of Hepatitis E Virus Molecular Typing Methods

Background

Hepatitis E virus (HEV) is a major cause of acute viral hepatitis. Better understanding of HEV subtypes involved in hepatitis E infections is essential. Investigation of sources and routes of transmission and the identification of potential clusters/outbreaks rely upon molecular typing of viral strains. A study was carried out to evaluate the ability of laboratories to undertake molecular typing with genotype and subtype determination.

Methods

A blinded panel of 11 different Orthohepevirus A strains was distributed to 28 laboratories performing HEV sequence analysis. Laboratories used their routine HEV sequencing and genotyping methods.

Results

Results were returned by 25 laboratories. Overall, 93% samples were assigned to the correct genotype and 81% were assigned to the correct subtype. Fragments amplified for typing ranged in size and the sequencing assays targeted both the structural and non-structural protein-coding regions. There was good agreement between the reported sequences where methods targeted overlapping fragments. In some cases, incorrect genotypes/subtypes were reported, including those not contained in the panel, and in one case, a genotype was reported for a blinded control sample containing Zika virus; collectively these data indicate contamination problems.

Conclusions

In general, identification of genotypes was good; however, in a small number of cases, there was a failure to generate sequences from some of the samples. There was generally broad agreement between the use of online typing tools such as the one provided by HEVnet and curated lists of published HEV reference sequences; however, going forward harmonization between these resources is essential.

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