Seroepidemiological investigation of patients and family contacts in an epidemic of hepatitis A



Serial blood and faecal samples were collected from patients and family contacts during an outbreak of hepatitis A in a village and tested by a solid-phase competitive type radioimmunoassay for hepatitis A antigen and hepatitis A antibody. The amount and duration of excretion of hepatitis A antigen was correlated with the severity of the illness. In 2 severe clinical cases, hepatitis A antigen was demonstrated in faecal extracts 11 days before the onset of jaundice and continuing for 10 days thereafter, with maximum shedding during the late incubation period. Faecal antigen was demonstrated in low concentrations for only 2 days in a patient with mild disease and in a person with subclinical infection. There was an inverse correlation between the incidence of infection and prevalence of hepatitis A antibody and age. Of 24 infections, 19 (79%) occurred in persons in the age group 0 to 20 years, a group in which only 6% of individuals had pre-existing antibody. Hepatitis A antibody was present in the serum of 3 persons in low titres of 1:20 to 1:40 on the day jaundice developed. The antibody titres increased very rapidly during the following 2 weeks of illness and slowly during the following months, reaching titres of 1:900 to 1:3500. In a separate study, a mean antibody titre of 1:591 was found in 13 patients, 12 years after clinical hepatitis A with jaundice.