Lethal outbreak of hepatitis B in a dental practice

JAMA. 1986 Jun 20;255(23):3260-4.


Between April 1, 1984, and Feb 1, 1985, nine cases of hepatitis B occurred in the patients of a dentist practicing in a rural Indiana county (population, 35,000). This was over 20 times the mean annual incidence for the county in the previous decade. All of the patients had been treated by the dentist two to five months before illness. Although the dentist had never had hepatitis symptoms, his serum was positive for hepatitis B surface antigen and hepatitis B e antigen and negative for anti-hepatitis B core IgM antibody, indicating that he was probably a hepatitis B carrier. Two patients (22%) died of fulminant hepatitis; the case-fatality ratio was over ten times the reported US mean for hepatitis B. Using a case definition based on anti-hepatitis B core IgM antibody positivity and exposure to the dentist during a defined time period, a serosurvey of the dentist's patients identified 15 asymptomatic cases (overall attack rate, 3.2%). Infection risk was related to the amount of trauma involved in the cases' dental procedures. No cause was found for the unusual lethality of the outbreak.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carrier State*
  • Dentists*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Hand Disinfection
  • Hepatitis B / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis B / mortality
  • Hepatitis B / transmission*
  • Hepatitis B Antibodies / analysis
  • Hepatitis B Core Antigens / immunology
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens / analysis
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens / analysis
  • Humans
  • Indiana
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polyarteritis Nodosa / etiology
  • Risk


  • Hepatitis B Antibodies
  • Hepatitis B Core Antigens
  • Hepatitis B Surface Antigens
  • Hepatitis B e Antigens