The Hepatitis B virus is widely affecting people who live in the northern region of Uganda, including women who are pregnant and under 20 years old. These are the alarming results of research conducted in the country, and presented at the IDWeek 2014, a conference on infectious diseases that took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the beginning of the month.
“Hepatitis B is highly prevalent in Uganda, with a national average of 10%, but the Northern part of Uganda has a lot higher prevalence of 20% or more,” explained researcher Emmanuel Ochola, MBChB, MSc, of St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Gulu, Uganda, in an interview posted on Healio. “In this study, we wanted to see the prevalence amongst pregnant mothers and to get a glimpse of transmission to the babies.”
The study concluded that 47 of the pregnant women had positive results for the hepatitis B surface antigen, from a total of 397 pregnant women who were examined and were receiving antenatal assistance at clinics in the Gulu district in the northern region of Uganda. In addition, four of the women tested positive for both hepatitis B e antigen.
What is particularly concerning is that the prevalence of the HBsAg positivity rate was higher among women younger than 20 years old. While the first group of younger mothers registered a prevalence of 20%, the group of pregnant women older than 20 years registered only 8.7%.
“We found a Hepatitis B prevalence of 12% among all the mothers,” Ochola said. “The risk is 2.54 times higher risk in mothers 20 years of age or below. Of the 47 mothers, 15% were positive for Hepatitis B e antingen. We think this gives us an indication that there is quite some transmission taking place to the babies, and currently the program for vaccination starts at 6 weeks for babies.”
The investigator also explained that if the babies are exposed to hepatitis B prior to vaccination, “then we have a problem, it is too late,” and he added that the hospital “recommend vaccination at birth for hepatitis B for exposed babies.” If not treated, the hepatitis B virus can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death.
Even though the results are not encouraging, the good news is that the researchers were also able to demonstrate that HBsAg positivity was not related to HIV status, for which the overall rate was 11.8%. The scientists concluded that there were no differences observed between HBsAg-positive and HBsAg-negative for liver enzymes, hemoglobin level, neutrophil, or mean white blood cell count.