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A cross sectional descriptive study was undertaken in the Liverpool Somali population in order to determine the prevalence of hepatitis B markers. Sessions were held at two health centres providing care for Somali households. A total of 439 subjects were screened, of whom 194 (43.3%) were children aged less than 15 years. It was found that 5.7 per cent of the study population were carriers of HBsAg. Seven of 80 (8.7%) children born in the UK and aged 5 years or less had evidence of exposure to hepatitis B. Of their mothers only one was a carrier, one had anti-HBc antibody, and five were non-immune. This suggests that horizontal HBV transmission continues at an early age among Somali immigrants.1
The UK is one of the few western European countries which has chosen not to comply with the WHO recommendations for universal hepatitis B vaccination. This position has recently been defended,2 although no reference was made for the need to immunise high risk ethnic groups outside an antenatal screening programme. Evidence of previous hepatitis B infection in children is not uncommon among the Somali population in Liverpool. This has implications for screening of children who may benefit from immunisation. If screening of high risk groups and vaccination of susceptible children is not undertaken, this may result in unnecessary exposure of these children to hepatitis B infection.
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