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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1997 Mar;56(3):285-90.

Hepatitis B virus, human immunodeficiency virus type-1, and syphilis among women attending prenatal clinics in Belize, Central America.

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Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Women and their infants may benefit from therapeutic interventions when hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), or syphilis are detected during the prenatal period. We initiated hepatitis B and HIV screening of women attending prenatal clinics in Belize. Risk factor assessment information for hepatitis B infection and demographic data were determined by interview. Of 543 evaluable women, 81 (14.9%) were seropositive for hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc); one woman had asymptomatic hepatitis B surface antigenemia. Antibodies to HIV-1 were detected in one woman. Reactive syphilis serologies were detected in 15 (2.8%) women. Anti-HBc seroprevalence varied by district (range 3.1-43.5%) and by ethnicity (range 0.0-40.9%). Significant identified risks for anti-HBc seropositivity from univariate analyses included being of the Garifuna ethnic group, residence or birth in the Stann Creek or Toledo districts, a reactive syphilis serology, a household size of eight or greater, and five or more lifetime sexual partners. Multivariate analyses identified ethnicity and a reactive rapid plasma reagin as the best predictors of anti-HBc seropositivity. Highly variable differences in anti-HBc prevalence by district may permit the targeting of limited public health resources for education, screening, and prevention programs.


A cross-sectional study of 543 pregnant women attending prenatal clinics in Belize's 6 districts in a 6-week period in 1993 detected highly variable prevalences of hepatitis B virus (HBV) markers. 81 sera specimens (14.9%) were positive for anti-hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc); one woman had asymptomatic hepatitis B surface antigenemia. No HBV markers were detected in the sera of the 1 woman with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 infection. 15 women (2.8%) had reactive syphilis serologies. Serologic evidence of exposure to HBV was significantly associated with the following sociodemographic factors: single status, age 30-34 years, household size exceeding 8, 5 or more lifetime sexual partners, geographic location (residence in the Stann Creek or Toledo districts), and ethnicity (Garifuna, Creole, and Mayan). In the multivariate analysis, ethnicity and a reactive syphilis result were the only independent predictors of anti-HBc seroprevalence. Anti-HBc seroprevalence varied by district from 3.1-43.5%, with the highest rate in Stann Creek, and by ethnicity from 0 to 40.9%, with the highest rate among the Garifuna. Prevalences were substantially lower among Mestizo-Spanish from the northern and western districts of Orange Walk, Corozal, and Cayo. The overall low prevalence of HBsAg does not support a nationwide prenatal screening program, especially given limited public health care resources. However, this study's findings suggest the feasibility of HBV screening of pregnant women among the Garifuna, Creole, Mayan, and immigrant populations of Belize's Stann Creek and Toledo districts.

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