Seroepidemiological studies conducted in 369 household contacts of 80 acute cases of hepatitis B in Singapore showed that asymptomatic chronic carriers of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBs Ag) are the main source of acute hepatitis B infection. The HBs Ag prevalence rate in asymptomatic household members was 20% compared with a 6% prevalence for the general population. The majority of the household carriers (60%) were highly infectious with positive hepatitis e antigen (HBe Ag). The overall prevalence of HBV infection (with at least one HBV marker) of the household contacts was 40.7%. Spouses and parents of acute cases had a significantly higher prevalence of HBV infection than other members of the families. HBV prevalence rate showed no association with the household size. Factors associated with the risk of transmission of HBV infection included sharing of various personal and household articles, such as toothbrush, towel, handkerchief, clothing, razor, comb, bed and bedding. Sleeping in the same bedroom, eating together at meals, and sharing of eating and drinking utensils were not associated with an increased risk of transmission of infection. Follow-up studies six months later showed that 30% of the acute cases became chronic HBs Ag carriers (with 46% HBe Ag positive), thus providing an additional source of infection in the families, while 8% of the susceptible household members acquired asymptomatic HBV infection. Health education on the prevention of HBV transmission in the homes of acute cases should be based on sound epidemiological information. Household contacts of acute cases of hepatitis B should be routinely screened and the susceptible vaccinated against the disease as soon as possible.
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