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Hepatitis is common in the Stann Creek District of southern Belize. To determine the etiologies, incidence, and potential risk factors for acute jaundice, we conducted active surveillance for cases. Cases of jaundice diagnosed by a physician within the previous 6 weeks were enrolled. Evaluation included a questionnaire and laboratory tests for hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, a blood film for malaria, and a serologic test for syphilis. Etiologies of jaundice among 62 evaluable patients included acute hepatitis A, 6 (9.7%), acute hepatitis B, 49 (79.0%), hepatitis non-A-E, 2 (3.2%), and malaria, 5 (8.1%). There were no cases of acute hepatitis E. One patient each with antibody to hepatitis C and D were detected. The annualized incidence of hepatitis A was 0.26 per 1,000. All cases of hepatitis A were in children 4-16 years of age. The annualized incidence of hepatitis B, 2.17 per 1,000, was highest in adults aged 15-44 years (4.4 per 1,000) and was higher in men (36 cases; 3.09 per 1,000) than women (13 cases; 1.19 per 1,000). Four (31%) of the women with hepatitis B were pregnant. The annualized incidence was significantly higher in Mestizo (6.18 per 1000) and Maya (6.79 per 1,000) than Garifuna (0.38 per 1,000) or Creole (0.36 per 1,000). Persons with hepatitis B were significantly more likely to be born outside of Belize (82%), had been in Belize < 5 years (73%), and lived and worked in rural areas (96%) than was the general population. Of those > or = 14 years of age with hepatitis B, only 36% were married. Few persons admitted to transfusions, tattoos, IV drug use, multiple sexual partners, visiting prostitutes, or sexually transmitted diseases. Only 1 of 49 had a reactive test for syphilis. Six patients were hospitalized (including 3 with acute hepatitis B and one with hepatitis A), and none to our knowledge died. Acute hepatitis B is the most common cause of viral hepatitis in the Stann Creek District, but the modes of transmission remain obscure. Infants, women attending prenatal clinics, and new workers are potential targets for immunization with hepatitis B vaccine.