The Influence of Age on the Development of the Hepatitis B Carrier State

W. J. Edmunds, G. F. Medley, D. J. Nokes, A. J. Hall, H. C. Whittle

Abstract

The relation between the age at infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the development of the carrier state is examined by using data from a number of published and unpublished surveys. A remarkably consistent relation was found. Infants infected perinatally (within the first 6 months of life) were found to have a high probability of becoming carriers (0.885; 95% C.L. 0.84-0.93). Over the infant and early childhood age classes there was found to be a sharp decrease in the proportion of infections which lead to the carrier state. By adulthood (over 15 years) the probability of developing the carrier status was found to be about 0.1. A model was fitted to the data by using maximum likelihood, which provides a good empirical description of the observed data and can be used to predict the expected probability of developing the carrier state given the age at infection. It is postulated that, as a result of this rapid decline in the probability of becoming a carrier during early childhood, a mass childhood immunization campaign, which will tend to postpone the average age at infection in the unvaccinated community, will have a disproportionately large impact on the rate of generation of new carriers.