BACKGROUND: The hepatitis B virus (HBV) immunisation policy in the United Kingdom includes offering vaccines selectively to those at risk by sexual contact. Among genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic attenders, homosexual men are offered vaccine, but estimates of the vaccine uptake are required to monitor policy and estimate the possible impact on transmission; heterosexuals are not routinely offered vaccine, but this policy might change if the prevalence was found to be high. OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence of HBV infection and vaccine uptake among patients attending a GUM clinic. METHODS: HBV seroprevalence determined by unlinked anonymous testing of consecutive blood samples sent for syphilis serology. Demographic and risk factor data and history of HBV immunization extracted from clinic notes before unlinking. Prevalence data were compared with a population of first time blood donors from the same area. SETTING: Open access GUM clinic in central London. RESULTS: Samples were obtained and tested from 441 homosexual and 527 heterosexual men and from 821 women over a 4 month period in 1990. After exclusion of injecting drug users and their sexual partners (n = 30) and HBV carriers attending for follow up (n = 12), the prevalence of antibody to HBV core (anti-HBc) was 38.7% in homosexual men, 5.9% in heterosexual men, and 3.5% in women (50.0%, 6.0%, 3.7% respectively if previous vaccinees were also excluded). The prevalence of HBV surface antigen positivity was 4.2%, 0.60%, and 0.39% respectively after exclusion of vaccinees (chi(2) p < 0.001 for homosexual men versus others). The prevalence of the anti-HBc in first time blood donors was 1.1% (8/749). Among male GUM clinic attenders, the prevalence of anti-HBc was higher in those of non-UK origin or place of birth and/or non-white ethnicity (odds ratios 2.87, 95% CI 1.57-5.24 and 8.06, CI 3.39-19.1, in homosexuals and heterosexuals respectively). In homosexual men anti-HBc prevalence increased with age (OR 1.05, CI 1.02-1.07 for each year) and lifetime number of STDs (OR 6.36, CI 3.77-10.8 for > or = 2 versus < 2) and in clinic reattenders compared with new patients (OR 5.42, 95% CI 3.32-9.16). Among heterosexuals, age was associated with anti-HBc prevalence in women (OR 1.09, CI 1.04-1.12) but not men (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.95-1.02). There were no other associations in heterosexuals. A history of HBV immunisation in homosexual men was recorded in 13/131 (9.9%) of new patients and 103/305 (33.8%; OR 4.63, CI 2.49-8.60) clinic reattenders. CONCLUSIONS: Although higher than a sample of blood donors, the prevalence of serological markers of HBV infection among heterosexuals was low, providing little support for extending HBV immunisation to all heterosexuals attending GUM clinics as a targeted strategy for control of HBV infection. Homosexual men remain at high risk of infection, but many are now being immunised. Efforts to improve compliance with existing vaccine policies in GUM clinics should be encouraged.
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