• Open Access

Markers of hepatitis B virus infection and immunity in Victoria, Australia, 1995 to 2005


Correspondence to:
Dr Benjamin Cowie, Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, 10 Wreckyn Street, North Melbourne Victoria 3051. Fax: (03) 9342 2666; e-mail: benjamin.cowie@mh.org.au


Objective: Estimating the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in generally low-prevalence populations containing communities with a higher disease burden is difficult. This study was conducted to estimate the prevalence of serological markers of infection with, and immunity to, HBV in the Victorian population and to analyse trends in these estimates over time.

Methods: A serological survey of 3,212 samples of convenience collected in the years 1995, 2000 and 2005 was conducted using a selection procedure designed to reduce selection bias. All samples were tested for hepatitis B surface and core antibodies; all core antibody positive samples (indicating previous infection) were then tested for the presence of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg).

Results: HBsAg prevalence was 1.1% (95%CI 0.8-1.6%) with significant differences observed by area of residence, age, gender and test year. Serological evidence of immunisation in infants and adolescents were lower than established estimates following the introduction of universal vaccination for these groups.

Conclusions: This study emphasises the significant and growing problem of chronic HBV infection in Victoria and suggests lower than expected population immunity deriving from universal vaccination programs.

Implications: Greater efforts are needed to formulate a comprehensive public health response to address this relatively neglected blood borne viral infection, the burden of which is very significant in some marginalised sections of our community. Increased attention to improving the universality of our immunisation programs is also needed.