The hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotypes distribution and the core promoter (CP)/precore (PC) variability were evaluated by a line probe assay in 272 patients infected chronically enrolled consecutively in an area of the North-Eastern Italy. Seven out of the eight genotypes were detected. Italian subjects (83% of the sample) were infected mainly by genotype D (73%) and A (26%); genotype F, and genotype H, were detected only in one subject. In foreigners, the genotype distribution reflected the distribution described for the areas of origin, that is, in Asia genotypes B, C, and D; in Africa genotypes A and E. CP and PC variants prevalence rates were 51% and 60%, respectively, and were significantly higher in Italian patients, probably in relation to their older age. In the analysis restricted to genotypes A and D, PC wild type was linked strongly to genotype A (OR = 4.08,95% CI = 3.07-5.43, P < 0.0001). In genotype A-infected patients, only e seroconversion was associated significantly with CP variants. In genotype D-infected subjects, CP variants were linked significantly to older age and to a higher e seroconversion rate, while PC variants also showed a strong relationship with an ALT lower activity and a lower viral load. In multivariate analysis, HBeAg positivity was associated strongly and independently with younger age, genotype A and CP wild type. Independent determinants of higher viral loads were recognized by increasing age, in male gender and concomitant presence of HBeAg and the CP wild type virus
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