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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Epidemiology of acute and chronic hepatitis B virus infection in Norway, 1992-2009

Gražina Rimšelienė12*, Øivind Nilsen2, Hilde Kløvstad2, Hans Blystad2 and Preben Aavitsland2

Author Affiliations

1 European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, 0403 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:153  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-153

Published: 26 May 2011

Abstract

Background

Norway is classified as a low prevalence country for hepatitis B virus infection. Vaccination is only recommended for risk groups (intravenous drug users (IDUs), Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), immigrants and contacts of known carriers). We describe the epidemiology of reported cases of hepatitis B in Norway, during the years 1992-2009 in order to assess the validity of current risk groups and recommend preventive measures.

Methods

We used case based data from the national surveillance system on acute and chronic hepatitis B. The Norwegian Statistics Bureau provided population and migration data and the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research the estimated number of active IDUs between 2002-2007. Incidence rates (IR) and incidence rate ratios (IRR) for acute hepatitis B and notification rates (NR) and notification rate ratios (NRR) for chronic hepatitis B with 95% confidence intervals were calculated.

Results

The annual IR of acute hepatitis B ranged from 0.7/100,000 (1992) to 10.6/100,000 (1999). Transmission occurred mainly among IDUs (64%) or through sexual contact (24%). The risk of acquiring acute hepatitis B was highest in people aged 20-29 (IRR = 6.6 [3.3-13.3]), and in males (IRR = 2.4 [1.7-3.3]). We observed two peaks of newly reported chronic hepatitis B cases in 2003 and 2009 (NR = 17.6/100,000 and 17.4/100,000, respectively). Chronic hepatitis B was more likely to be diagnosed among immigrants than among Norwegians (NRR = 93 [71.9-120.6]), and among those 20-29 compared to those 50-59 (NRR = 5.2 [3.5-7.9]).

Conclusions

IDUs remain the largest risk group for acute hepatitis B. The observed peaks of chronic hepatitis B are related to increased immigration from high endemic countries and screening and vaccination of these groups is important to prevent further spread of infection. Universal screening of pregnant women should be introduced. A universal vaccination strategy should be considered, given the high cost of reaching the target populations. We recommend evaluating the surveillance system for hepatitis B as well as the effectiveness of screening and vaccinating immigrant populations.