Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of serum markers of hepatitis A, B and C viruses in a rural area according to risk factors and alcohol consumption.
Methods: Transversal study of unselected subjects living and working in a rural area. Each subject included was asked to fill out an anonymous self-administered questionnaire dealing with his own risk factors, sexual behaviour and alcohol consumption. A blood sample was collected for detection of HBsAg, anti-HBc, anti-HBs, anti-HAV and anti-HCV antibodies.
Results: Three hundred three subjects with a mean age of 48 years were included. Main risk factors for viral infection were: blood transfusion (9.4%), intravenous drug addiction (0.73%), acupuncture (17.5%), tattoos (5. 8%), past hospitalizations (71.5%), homosexuality (1.1%), conjugal unfaithfulness (11%), sexual partners >5 (21.3%). Most subjects with at risk sexual behaviour had sexual relations without protection. Anti-HAV prevalence was 87.2% (95% confidence interval 83.4-91.0%). None of the subjects was HBsAg positive and 6.0% (confidence interval 4.7-8.7%) had anti-HBV antibodies. HBV prevalence was correlated to homosexuality only. Two subjects (0.67%, confidence interval 0-1.6%) without any identified risk factor had anti-HCV antibodies. There was no correlation between serum viral marker positivity and an excess alcohol consumption (>80 g of ethanol/d) which was present in 46 subjects. However HBV prevalence was 28.6% in the seven subjects who had been treated for alcoholism; these 7 subjects had a highly at risk sexual behaviour.
Conclusion: In a rural area, infection by HAV is very frequent. The prevalence of HBV and HCV did not greatly differ from that observed in the general and urban population. The frequent failure to use protection in subjects with at risk sexual behaviour reinforces the need of prevention programs in rural areas.