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J Clin Virol. 2004 Apr;29(4):211-20.

Incidence and routes of transmission of hepatitis B virus in England and Wales, 1995-2000: implications for immunisation policy.

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  • 1Health Protection Agency, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, Colindale, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, UK.



The incidence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in the UK is low. Since the infection can have serious sequelae, there is a continuing need to examine its epidemiology so as to inform control measures.


We aimed to describe the current HBV incidence and patterns of transmission in the UK, to estimate the rate of new carrier infections, and to discuss implications for the control of HBV through immunisation.


We analysed routine England and Wales laboratory surveillance data of acute HBV infection (1995-2000) and data on migration and global HBsAg prevalence.


The estimated annual incidence of HBV infection in England and Wales was 7.4 per 100,000. Injecting drug use was the most frequently reported route of transmission. The number of cases attributed to heterosexual contact was fairly stable, whereas the number of cases in men having sex with men decreased. These observations continue trends reported for the early 1990s. Transmission during childhood was rarely reported, but was more frequent among South Asians. The incidence in South Asians is relatively high, and their main risk factors are medical treatment overseas and heterosexual contact. For about a third of cases of acute HBV infection no route of transmission is reported, but analysis of secular trends and age distribution suggest that many of these may be related to injecting drug use. Endemic transmission gives rise to only a small proportion of all new chronic infections, with the vast majority arising from immigration of established HBV carriers.


The incidence of acute HBV infection in England and Wales has remained low, with a similar pattern of reported routes of transmission compared to the early 1990s. The UK prevalence of HBV infection is dependant on global rather than national immunisation policy. Endemic transmission may be reduced by improving immunisation coverage among injecting drug users, which is expected to also reduce the number of cases without a risk factor reported. In addition, immunisation options that better suit the needs of ethnic minorities need to be explored.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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