Background: More than 2 billion people worldwide have been exposed to hepatitis B virus (HBV). To prevent these infections, Senegal and Cameroon integrated the HBV vaccine into their Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in 2005, as did the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2008. We evaluated the prevalence of HBV exposure and infection after the integration of the HBV vaccine in the EPI.
Methods: An observational cross-sectional study was conducted among the hospitalized children 3 months to 6 years of age in Cameroon, CAR and Senegal. Plasma was collected for the detection of anti-HBc, anti-HBs and hepatitis B surface antigen in children with anti-HBc and anti-HBs.
Results: Between April 2009 and May 2010, 1783 children were enrolled, 19.4% of whom were anti-HBc positive. The percentage of children with anti-HBc was 44.4% among the children younger than 6 months, decreasing after 6 months to reach 18.8% at 12 months. This decline was followed by a rapid increase in anti-HBc positivity rate in CAR observed as early as 12 months of age compared with Cameroon and Senegal, where the anti-HBc increased between 18 and 36 months of age, respectively. The prevalence of hepatitis B surface antigen-positive children was significantly higher in CAR than that in Cameroon and Senegal (5.1% versus 0.7% and 0.2%; P < 0.001). Socioeconomic level, age and country were factors associated with the presence of anti-HBc.
Conclusions: Passive transfer of anti-HBc maternal antibodies versus HBV exposure could be differentiated as early as 12 months of age. The low prevalence of anti-HBc and hepatitis B surface antigen among children born after the integration of HBV vaccine in the EPI in Cameroon and Senegal suggests a positive impact of HBV vaccination.