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Kaposi's sarcoma in South Africa.

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National Cancer Registry and Cancer Epidemiology Research Group, Department of Anatomical Pathology, South African Institute for Medical Research, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.


Kaposi's sarcoma was endemic in South Africa even before the advent of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Between 1988 and 1996, the incidence of Kaposi's sarcoma in South Africa has risen at least threefold and continues to increase as the HIV epidemic grows. Research from South Africa has shown that infection with human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8) is associated with Kaposi's sarcoma but not with any other major cancer site or type. In addition, the risk of Kaposi's sarcoma increases with increasing antibody titer to HHV8, but, for a given titer, the risk is greater in HIV-seropositive compared with HIV-seronegative individuals. The age- and sex-standardized seroprevalence of HHV8 in black South African hospital patients was found to be slightly more than 30%; the seroprevalence of HHV8 increased with age and was similar in men and in women. The modes of transmission of HHV8 are yet to be fully elucidated. Limited evidence exists for sexual transmission in black South African adults, but mother-to-child and person-to-person transmission in childhood is also likely. Furthermore, the seroprevalence of HHV8 decreases with increasing levels of education and is lower in whites than in blacks, suggesting that factors associated with poverty may be important determinants of transmission. Future research should focus on risk factors for Kaposi's sarcoma in HHV8-infected individuals, on determinants and mode of transmission of HHV8, and on the elucidation of the effect of primary HHV8 infection in adults and in children.

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