Objective: To determine the prevalence of markers of past hepatitis B infection among participants in Australian Rules football, to estimate the potential exposure of Australians to hepatitis B virus (HBV) in contact sport.
Design and setting: A point prevalence survey for antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs) and core antigen (anti-HBc), supported by a questionnaire used to determine the history of risk and exposure, in South Australian National Football League (SANFL) players supervised at club level by general practitioners and sports medicine specialists.
Participants: Of 245 players from seven clubs, 49 were excluded from the study because they had been previously vaccinated. Of 196 eligible participants, 117 submitted blood samples and, of these, 85 returned questionnaires.
Results: One player was positive for anti-HBc (a prevalence rate of 0.85%). This individual and three anti-HBc-negative players were positive for anti-HBs in the absence of a history of vaccination. We could not ascertain whether these additional three players had been previously infected, or vaccinated without this fact having been recorded on the questionnaires. No single behavioural factor correlated with positive anti-HBs results.
Conclusions: The prevalence of markers of past hepatitis B infection in SANFL football players was no different to that in blood donors of the same age group from the same city. There was no evidence for any additional HBV transmission due to participation in football over that in the blood donor population. Vaccination of footballers and people engaged in similar sports is of benefit in conferring protection on the individual, but would be unlikely to make a significant public health impact on community rates of HBV infection.