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Open Access Research article

The association between maternal hepatitis B e antigen status, as a proxy for perinatal transmission, and the risk of hepatitis B e antigenaemia in Gambian children

Yusuke Shimakawa12*, Christian Bottomley2, Ramou Njie13 and Maimuna Mendy4

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit, Atlantic Boulevard, Fajara, P.O. Box 273, Banjul, The Gambia

2 Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK

3 The Gambia Hepatitis Intervention Study, IARC, c/o MRC Unit, Atlantic Boulevard, Fajara, P.O. Box 273, Banjul, West Africa, The Gambia

4 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), 150 Cours Albert Thomas, Lyon, CEDEX 08 69372, France

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:532  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-532

Published: 30 May 2014



Early age at infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) increases the risk of chronic HBV infection. In addition early age at infection may further increase the risk of persistent viral replication beyond its effect on chronicity. The effects of perinatal and early postnatal transmission on the risk of prolonged hepatitis B e antigenaemia in children with chronic HBV infection are not well documented in Africa. We examine these associations using maternal HBV sero-status and the number of HBV-positive older siblings as proxy measures for perinatal and early postnatal transmission, respectively.


Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg)-positive mothers were identified in six population-based HBV sero-surveys conducted in The Gambia between 1986 and 1990. For every HBeAg-positive mother, a hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg)-positive HBeAg-negative mother and HBsAg-negative mother were randomly selected from the population surveyed. These mothers and their family members were tested for HBV sero-markers in a subsequent survey conducted between 1991 and 1993.


Thirty-eight HBeAg positive mothers and the same number of HBsAg-positive HBeAg-negative mothers and HBsAg-negative mothers participated in the study. Sixty-nine percent of their children also participated. There was a non-significant positive association between HBeAg prevalence in children and the number of HBeAg-positive older siblings (64.1%, 69.2% and 83.3% in children with 0, 1 and ā‰„2 HBeAg-positive older siblings, respectively). After adjusting for confounders, having an HBeAg-positive mother was a risk factor for HBeAg positivity in children carrying HBsAg (adjusted OR 4.5, 95% CI: 1.0-19.5, pā€‰=ā€‰0.04), whilst the number of HBeAg-positive older siblings was not.


Maternal HBeAg was associated with positive HBeAg in children with chronic HBV infection. This suggests that interrupting mother-to-infant transmission in sub-Saharan Africa might help reduce the burden of liver disease. A timely dose of HBV vaccine within 24 hours of birth, as recommended by WHO, should be implemented in sub-Saharan Africa.

Hepatitis B; Hepatitis B e antigens; Infectious disease transmission; Vertical; Age factors; Africa