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Prenatal HBV Screening Helps Babies More than Moms

Routine screening for hepatitis B virus (HBV) during pregnancy enables most infants to be protected against infection, but underserved mothers often do not receive education about or care for their own infection, researchers reported this week at DDW 2011.

Mother-to-child hepatitis B transmission can be effectively prevented using available HBV vaccines and in some cases administered antibodies (hepatitis B immune globulin, or HBIG).

Public health officials recommend that pregnant women should be tested for HBV so that their babies can receive prophylactic therapy if needed. Ideally, such testing would also lead to the women themselves receiving hepatitis B education, further testing, and appropriate care, but this often does not happen, according to research presented at the Digestive Disease Week meeting (DDW) this week in Chicago.

Below is an edited excerpt from a press release issued by DDW describing the study and its findings.

Routine Antenatal Screening for Hepatitis B in an Urban NYC Population Provides Appropriate Care for Infants But Not for HBsAg Positive Women

According to new research at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, high rates of chronic hepatitis B infection (HBV) are found in pregnant minority and immigrant women in the New York City area, and most of them do not receive education, appropriate follow-up testing or referral, which is considered the standard of care for all persons newly identified as HBV carriers.

Results showed that while all but one infant was protected from infection in this study, nearly 90 percent of the women -- the majority of whom were immigrant or non-English speaking -- did not receive education about hepatitis, further laboratory testing or subsequent care. The study also showed a surprisingly high rate of chronic HBV across this population of women of child-bearing age. These results are especially notable, said lead investigator Blaire E. Burman, MD, an internal medicine resident at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, because nearly 75 percent of those who screened positive were Hispanic, many from the Dominican Republic, a population overrepresented in this population, but a group not traditionally considered high risk for viral hepatitis.

The study also found that subpopulations of largely immigrant and underserved patients are living with chronic HBV and are at serious risk for morbidity and mortality. The study identified a population of young and vulnerable patients living with a chronic disease that they know little about, and are unlikely to receive the standard of care in terms of surveillance and treatment. Given the lack of follow-up testing and imaging, it is unclear what percentage of these infected women would qualify for and benefit from therapy.

Additionally, immigrant populations that are not listed as "high risk" under current screening guidelines may in fact have high rates of chronic HBV infection. It is imperative to identify carriers who do not have regular access to medical care, not just young women, but the rest of their families.

"Prenatal screening is a golden opportunity to identify chronic hepatitis B infection in young mothers at risk for life-threatening complications, including liver failure and liver cancer," Dr. Burman said. "We need to use prenatal testing to engage patients with intervention and prevention of future morbidity and mortality."

Dr. Burman added that there is very little research in this area, and no previous studies specifically looked at the follow-up of women who screened positive for HBV during pregnancy, the subsequent care received and their outcomes. She cautioned that this research applies only to the largely underserved and immigrant population who receive prenatal care at the two urban hospitals studied, and that it cannot be applied to women with private insurance and established medical follow-up.

About DDW

Digestive Disease Week 2011 (DDW) is the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers, and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy, and gastrointestinal surgery. Jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, DDW takes place May 7-10, 2011, in Chicago, IL. The meeting showcases more than 5,000 abstracts and hundreds of lectures on the latest advances in GI research, medicine and technology.


E Burman, MS Chang, and RS Brown. Routine Antenatal Screening for Hepatitis B in an Urban NYC Population Provides Appropriate Care for Infants but Not for HBsAg Positive Women Blaire Digestive Disease Week (DDW 2011). Chicago. May 7-11, 2011. Abstract Tu1014.

Other Source
Digestive Disease Week. Routine Antenatal Screening for HBV in an Urban NYC Population. Press release. May 10, 2011.