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Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública

On-line version ISSN 1680-5348Print version ISSN 1020-4989


LEON, Pilar et al. Prevalence of viral hepatitis B, C, D, and E in Bolivia. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 1999, vol.5, n.3, pp.137-143. ISSN 1680-5348.

In Bolivia, no studies have been carried out specifically on hepatitis viruses. Thus, their prevalence and circulation patterns are virtually unknown. A seroepidemiologic study was performed from 1992 to 1996 to generate a preliminary idea of the overall prevalence of infection from hepatitis B, C, D, and E viruses (HBV, HCV, HDV, and HEV, respectively) in different Bolivian population groups. Prompted by the data obtained in other areas of Latin America, the study focused on indigenous communities in the Amazon region. In rural areas of the high Andean plateau, HBV infection showed an overall prevalence compatible with medium to low endemicity (11.2%), and no carriers of HCV or HDV antibodies were found. In two high-risk groups in the city of Cochabamba (homeless children and sexual workers), the prevalence of HBV infection was similar (11.6%) and could be considered low by comparison to that of similar population groups in Latin American urban centers. The prevalence of HCV (one positive case, or 0.5%) was similar to that found in similar population groups, although the small number of samples precludes drawing more definite conclusions. As has been noted previously with similar communities in tropical areas of South America, HBV infection is highly endemic in indigenous populations of the Bolivian Amazon (with an overall prevalence of 74.0%), but circulation of HCV has not been detected. It is a well-known fact that HBV is horizontally transmitted and that transmission can take place very early in life, but the mechanisms involved are unknown. By 10 years of age, more than half the population has already had the natural infection that, in approximately 10 more years will have affected virtually the entire population. The very low rate of positivity to HBsAg (1.6%), the absence of viral DNA in samples showing isolated positivity to anti-HBc, and the high prevalence of anti-HBs among individuals who show markers for natural infection (92.4%) suggest vertical transmission plays no role in persistent endemi city. So far, no outbreak of HDV infection has been documented in these communities, but the high endemicity shown by HBV points to the po ssibility of future outbreaks. Results obtained with tests for the detection of antibodies against HEV suggest that this virus is circulating widely in Bolivia and that it could have caused recent outbreaks in Cochabamba state. Vaccination against HBV in endemic populations is recommended as a short-term measure. Also recommended are actively searching for outbreaks and sporadic cases of hepatitis E in the entire country and performing additional research that will help in assessing the public health consequences of the situation described in this article.

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