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Keywords:

  • awareness;
  • chronic hepatitis;
  • hepatitis B virus;
  • liver cirrhosis;
  • screening

Summary.  Hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection may run undetected. Unawareness of an ongoing infection delays the diagnosis of HBV-related liver disease and favours the spread of the virus. We have evaluated among hepatitis B surface antigen–positive (HBsAg) inpatients admitted to a Southern Italian hospital the proportion of those aware of their carrier status and correlated the status to signs of liver disease. All patients admitted to the San Giovanni Rotondo Hospital from March 2008 to July 2009 were tested for HBV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) markers, and those positive for HBsAg were interviewed and underwent examinations for liver function and abdominal ultrasound. Overall, of 25 000 patients admitted during the observation period 311 (1.2%) were positive for HBsAg, most of them (98%) being anti-HBe positive. HCV and HDV co-infections were ascertained in 2.9% and 0.6% of cases, respectively. Two hundred and fifty-three subjects (81%) agreed to undergo further investigation, 132 of them (52%) were HBV-DNA positive. One hundred and two patients (40.3%) were unaware of their infection; this was encountered among 29% of HBV-DNA-positive and 52% of HBV-DNA-negative subjects (P < 0.01). Subjects already aware of their infection were more likely to present with abnormal alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels (27%vs 15%), serological presence of HBV-DNA (63.6%vs 36%) and liver cirrhosis (30%vs 13%). A high proportion of HBsAg-positive patients (40.3%) were unaware of their infection, which had evolved to the stage of liver cirrhosis in a consistent percentage of them.