medwireNews: Despite a universal program to vaccinate newborns against hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, the prevalence of overt and occult infection among children in northwest China is a cause for concern, say researchers.
The northwest region is “underdeveloped,” they explain, adding that “delayed injection and omission of [HBV] vaccination have occasionally occurred in a few children for reasons including traffic inconveniences and limitations due to medical conditions in rural areas.”
“Moreover, the parents with HBV infection lack scientific knowledge on how to prevent and block HBV transmission in their family,” leading to a “more serious” problem than in other regions, notes the team from The Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an, China.
The study included 6706 children no older than 12 years of age from 25 villages or towns in the northwest. Of these, 107 were positive for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), giving a prevalence of 1.60%.
After adjusting for the 0–12-year-old population in 2010, the weighted prevalence was 1.56%, which was higher than the average national rate in 2014 of 0.94%, say Yuhai Zhang and colleagues.
They found no significant difference in HBsAg carrier rates between children younger than 3 years of age, and those aged 3–6 years or 7–12 years, suggesting that HBV infection in childhood was mainly transmitted from the mother or family members, with little chance of acquiring the virus from kindergartens or schools.
Occult HBV infection was also prevalent in the community. Fifteen of 1192 children drawn from six of the 25 villages or towns tested positive for HBV DNA by nested polymerase chain reaction and negative for HBsAg, fulfilling the criteria for occult infection. This equated to a prevalence of 1.26%, with rates varying from 0.75% to 3.70% across individual villages or towns.
Although the study lacked information on the family history of HBV infection and the children’s HBV immunization status, the authors stress that their findings reveal a potentially serious problem.
They conclude in the Journal of Viral Hepatitis that “HBV neonatal immunization and catch-up programmes should be strengthened and supplemented.”
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