Objective: An anti-hepatitis A virus seroprevalence survey was performed in 1997 in 1052 French army recruits (mean age: 21.2 years). To describe epidemiological trends, the current pattern was compared to previous results obtained by similar methods in 1985, 1990 and 1993.
Results: In 1997, overall anti-hepatitis A virus seroprevalence was 11.5%. The greatest risk factor of hepatitis A infection was related to travel in intermediate or highly endemic areas for hepatitis A virus: 46% of overseas residents (odds ratio = 10.3), 28% of recruits who had travelled in developing countries (odds ratio = 3.7) and 7.65% of French living in industrialised countries are anti-hepatitis A virus antibody positive. Moreover, seroprevalence was higher in subjects with a history of icteria (adjusted odds ratio = 3.5) and families with at least 3 children (adjusted odds ratio = 3). No association was found with drinking water, socioeconomic status such as baccalaureat degree, or parents profession. The seroepidemiological shift of hepatitis A, as assessed in three previous studies, shows a marked decrease of 20% in 12 years from 30.4% in 1985, to 21.3% in 1990, to 16.3% in 1993, and to 11.5% in 1997. The decrease in the prevalence of anti-hepatitis A virus was more marked in young adults who had never travelled in endemic countries (decrease of 20%) than those who had visited or lived in developing countries (decrease of 10%).
Conclusion: Although France is not highly endemic for hepatitis A thanks to improved hygiene and housing conditions over the past 20 years, a pattern of intermediate endemicity was seen in French overseas areas in which the risk of outbreaks of hepatitis A was higher. The decrease in anti-hepatitis A virus seroprevalence in French youth can be used to draft a public health policy for hepatitis A control.