South African Medical Journal

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Hepatitis B and HIV co-infection in pregnant women: Indication for routine antenatal hepatitis B virus screening in a high HIV prevalence setting

NV Thumbiran, D Moodley, R Parboosing, P Moodley


Background. Sub-Saharan Africa is endemic for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections. HBV/HIV co-infection in women of reproductive age is of clinical and public health importance because these women constitute a significant reservoir for horizontal and perinatal HBV transmission. Childhood HBV vaccination from 6 weeks of age protects most children against chronic HBV infection. However, infants born to HBV/HIV co-infected women are more likely to be infected perinatally, with an increased risk of chronic hepatitis, than infants born to HBV mono-infected women.
Objectives. The aim of our study was to establish the prevalence of HBV infection and HBV/HIV co-infection in pregnant women in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to inform antenatal HBV screening and childhood immunisation policies in South Africa.
Methods. Stored plasma specimens obtained from 570 pregnant women were tested for hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and HBV infectivity, as characterised by the presence of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) and/or HBV DNA load.
Results. The antenatal HIV prevalence and HBsAg prevalence in this study were 41.6% and 5.3% (95% confidence interval (CI) 3.4 - 7.1), respectively. Overall, 3.1% (95% CI 1.7 - 4.6) of pregnant women were HBV/HIV co-infected, with HBeAg positivity and the HBV DNA load being significantly higher in co-infected women.
Conclusion. We report a 5.3% HBV prevalence and a 3.1% HBV/HIV co-infection prevalence in pregnant women from this HIV-endemic region. Routine antenatal HBV screening will allow early identification of neonates who require HBV active-passive immunoprophylaxis at birth. This strategy, together with antenatal antiretrovirals, will reduce the risk of perinatal HBV transmission, especially in high-risk HBV/ HIV co-infected pregnant women.
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