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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574


BUCHNER, A; OMAR, F E; VERMEULEN, J  and  REYNDERS, D T. Investigating hepatitis B immunity in patients presenting to a paediatric haematology and oncology unit in South Africa. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2014, vol.104, n.9, pp.628-631. ISSN 2078-5135.

BACKGROUND: Hepatitis B is an important public health concern in South Africa (SA). The hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine was introduced into the South African Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI-SA) in 1995. There is no 'catch-up' programme in place. The duration of protection after hepatitis B vaccination in the SA population is unknown. Waning of vaccine-induced immunity leaves people at risk of acquiring hepatitis B infection in settings where the prevalence of infection is high and horizontal transmission is likely. OBJECTIVE: To assess immunity to HBV in patients at presentation to a paediatric haematology and oncology unit. METHODS: An audit of hepatitis profiles was done of all new patients seen in the unit from January 2012 to December 2013. Patients were classified as immune (antibody levels to hepatitis B surface antigen (anti-HBs) 100 mIU/ml), low immune (anti-HBs 10 - 100 mIU/ml) and not immune (anti-HBs 10 mIU/ml). RESULTS: Of the 210 patients included (median age 6.5 years), 84 (40.0%) had no immunity to hepatitis B despite presumed vaccination as part of the EPI schedule. Six patients tested positive for hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc), consistent with previous infection. No patients had active hepatitis B infection (hepatitis B surface antigen-positive). Most human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients were not immune to HBV (80.0%). CONCLUSION: A significant number of children in SA are not immune to hepatitis B despite vaccination being part of the EPI-SA. Combined passive-active immunisation should be considered for all oncology patients in settings where exposure to HBV is possible. Consideration should also be given to offering booster vaccination to the population as a whole.

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