Perinatal transmission of Hepatitis B virus in high-incidence countries.
J Virol Methods
Hepatitis B is a serious public health problem throughout the world. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) induces acute hepatitis with a case-fatality rate of about 1%. Even more important, 5-10% of patients infected with HBV become chronic carries and about 25% of these will die due to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. The reservoir of HBV chronic carriers in the world is estimated at more than 200 million people and 80% of them reside in Asia and the western Pacific. In high-incidence areas, such as south-east Asia, perinatal transmission of HBV from carrier mothers to newborns appears to be the most important factor for the high prevalence of HBV infection and 70-90% of infants born to HBsAg/HBeAg-positive mothers become chronic carriers. Three possibilities of transmission of HBV from carrier mothers to newborns are suggested: (a) transplacental transmission in utero - it was estimated that such transmission occurred in 5-15% of newborns; (b) transmission during delivery, which is considered the main mode of perinatal transmission; (c) postnatal transmission from mother to newborn, which is not common. HBeAg is the main maternal factor in determining whether infection of newborns will occur; the expression of this antigen seems to be determined genetically. Recently it has shown that immunoprophylaxis is highly effective in preventing the development of the carrier state in infants born to HBsAg/HBeAg-positive mothers. Only 5-10% of high-risk infants are not protected by vaccination. If it becomes possible to immunize the entire world population including all babies born to carrier mothers at birth, and if our knowledge of the mechanisms of perinatal transmission of HBV is accurate, the carriers and acute cases of HB ought to disappear in two to three generations.