Seroprevalence of Hepatitis B Virus among School-Age Children in the Stann Creek District of Belize, Central America

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  • Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Epidemiology Research Center, Ministry of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Adults in the Stann Creek District of Belize have a high prevalence of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection, but the age of onset of these infections is unclear. We conducted a seroprevalence study of hepatitis B markers among Stann Creek school-age children to provide information for planning a hepatitis B vaccine program. The overall prevalence in 587 students was high for antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc) (43.3%) and hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) (7.7%). There was marked variation of anti-HBc by school and by the predominant ethnic groups attending those schools. Maya had the highest prevalence (76%), followed by Mestizo (50%), Garifuna (37%), and Creole (25%). Children less than nine years of age attending the rural primary schools (mostly Mayan and Mestizo) had significantly higher prevalence of anti-HBc than did children attending the urban primary school (mostly Garifuna and Creole) (P < 0.05). Anti-HBc was found in 42% and 36% of students at the two high schools. Of the five schools tested, only at the urban primary school did anti-HBc positivity increase with age. Based on an analysis of the cost of serologic screening before immunization compared with mass vaccination, preimmunization serologic screening resulted in vaccine program cost savings in four of the five schools. Because most children in the rural areas contract hepatitis B before entering school, immunization against HBV should be integrated into the routine infant immunization program.