Fulminant hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in an infant following mother-to-child transmission of an e-minus HBV mutant: Time to relook at HBV prophylaxis in South African infants
The prevalence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection in pregnant women is high in South Africa (SA), yet prophylaxis to prevent motherto-child transmission (MTCT) falls short of international recommendations. We describe a 10-week-old infant who developed fulminant hepatic failure following MTCT. The mother was hepatitis e-antibody positive and had a viral load of only 760 IU/mL. Genetic analysis of virus from mother and infant showed that both had the G1896A mutation in the preC/C gene, which truncates hepatitis e antigen (HBeAg) during translation, causing an HBeAg-negative phenotype. HBeAg attenuates antiviral immune responses, and its absence was probably responsible for the infant’s fulminant hepatitis, due to an uncontrolled immune attack on infected liver cells. Pregnant women are not tested for HBV infection in SA and MTCT rates are unknown. Addition of a birth dose of vaccine, HBV screening of pregnant women and antiviral prophylaxis to positive mothers should be prioritised.