The link between Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV or human herpesvirus 8) and Kaposi's sarcoma has been proven, but the transmission routes, especially in the heterosexual population, are not yet completely understood. To assess the intrafamilial patterns of transmission among first-degree relatives of Italian classic Kaposi's sarcoma (cKS) patients, KSHV seroprevalence and the presence of viral DNA in blood and saliva were evaluated in 18 families (32 cKS patients and 35 family members), comparing the results with those obtained in 200 elderly healthy controls without known exposure to KSHV. The KSHV genotype of variable region VR1 of the hypervariable ORF K1 gene was subsequently analysed in all KSHV-positive samples. The results showed that KSHV infection was significantly higher in relatives of cKS patients (11/35 cases) than in healthy controls (17/200 cases; P50.001). The 11 infected relatives included spouses (n53), siblings (n52) and offspring (n56) of the cKS patients; the same KSHV genotype was shared within the same family in the majority of cases (85%), indicating the presence of person-to-person transmission within families. Viral DNA was mostly observed in the saliva of infected relatives (45.4%); detection of DNA in blood was less frequent (27.3%). Notably, KSHV DNA was present in saliva and/or blood of three KSHV-infected relatives with indeterminate or negative serostatus. Thus, the risk of KSHV infection is greatly enhanced within families of cKS patients, where close contacts (horizontal and/or sexual) can contribute to the spread of KSHV.
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