Several hepatitis C viruses (HCV) have been described. In this study, the prevalence of HCV subtypes la, 1b, 2a and 2b has been studied by means of specific PCR in 93 serum samples of Spanish patients. Among these, the HCV-1b subtype was the most frequently detected (62%). Complementary DNA fragments from nonstructural region 3 (NS3) and 5 (NS5), obtained from serum samples of three Spanish patients, were amplified by PCR and the products were cloned and sequenced. Comparison of the sequence obtained with those previously published shows the highest homology (91·7% in NS3 and 91·8% in NS5) with the HCV-1b subtype. The incidence of the local variant was analysed among the HCV-1b-infected patients. In order to distinguish between the local and HCV-1b prototype subtype, a new specific PCR assay was designed using primers from NS5. In the majority of the 76 HCV-1b-infected patients, the local variant was the only subtype detected (53%). These findings support the existence of a local variant, belonging to the HCV-1b subtype.


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