How HBV spread/Transmitted


HBV is spread through contact with infected body fluids and the only natural host is human. Blood is the most important vehicle for transmission, but other body fluids have also been implicated, including semen and saliva .

Currently, three modes of HBV transmission have been recognized:

  • Perinatal,
  • Sexual
  • Parenteral/Percutaneous Transmission.

There is no reliable evidence that airborne infections occur and feces are not a source of infection. HBV is not transmitted by contaminated food or water, insects or other vectors.

Perinatal Transmission

Transmission of HBV from carrier mothers to their babies can occur during the perinatal period, and appears to be the most important factor in determining the prevalence of the infection in high endemicity areas, particularly in China and Southeast Asia. Before HBV vaccine was integrated into the routine immunization program, the proportion of babies that become HBV carriers is about 10-30% for mothers who are HBsAg-positive but HBeAg-negative. However, the incidence of perinatal infection is even greater, around 70-90%, when the mother is both HBsAg-positive and HBeAg-positive There are three possible routes of transmission of HBV from infected mothers to infants: transplacental transmission of HBV in utero; natal transmission during delivery; or postnatal transmission during care or through breast milk. Since transplacental transmission occurs antenatally, hepatitis B vaccine and HBIG cannot block this route. Epidemiological studies on HBV intrauterine infection in China showed that intrauterine infection occurs in 3.7-9.9% pregnancy women with positive HBsAg and in 9.8-17.39% with positive HBsAg/HBeAg and it was suggested that a mother with positive HBeAg (OR = 17. 07) and a history of threatened premature labor (OR = 5. 44) are the main risk factors for intrauterine infection.

The studies on transplacental transmission of HBV suggested two possible mechanisms

  • Homogenous route:

A certain of factors, such as threaten abortion, can make the placental microvascular broken, thus the high-titer HBV maternal blood leak into fetus’ circulation ;

  • Cellular transfer:

The placental tissue is infected by high-titer of HBV in maternal blood from mother’s side to fetus’ step by step, and finally, HBV reach fetus’ circulation through the villous capillary endothelial cells

For neonates and children younger than 1 year who acquire HBV infection perinatally, the risk of the infection becoming chronic is 90%, presumably because neonates have an immature immune system. One of the possible reasons for the high rate of chronicity is that transplacental passage of HBeAg may induce immunological tolerance to HBV in fetus.

Sexual Transmission

Sexual transmission of hepatitis B is a major source of infection in all areas of the world, especially in the low endemic areas, such as North America. Hepatitis B is considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). For a long time, homosexual men have been considered to be at the highest risk of infection due to sexual contact (70% of homosexual men were infected after 5 years of sexual activity). However, heterosexual transmission accounts for an increasing proportion of HBV infections. In heterosexuals, factors associated with increased risk of HBV infection include duration of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, history of sexual transmitted disease, and positive serology for syphilis. Sexual partners of injection drug users, prostitutes, and clients of prostitutes are at particularly high risk for infection

Parenteral/percutaneous Transmission

The parenteral transmission includes injection drug use, transfusions and dialysis, acupuncture, working in a health-care setting, tattooing and household contact. In the United States and Western Europe, injection drug use remains a very important mode of HBV transmission (23% of all patients). Risk of acquiring infection increases with duration of injection drug use. Although the risk for transfusion-associate HBV infection has been greatly reduced since the screening of blood for HBV markers and the exclusion of donors who engage in high-risk activities, the transmission is still possible when the blood donors are asymptomatic carrier with HBsAgnegative . Obvious sources of infection include HBV-contaminated blood and blood products, with contaminated surgical instruments and utensils being other possible hazards. Parenteral/percutaneous transmission can occur during surgery, after needle-stick injuries, intravenous drug use, and following procedures such as ear piercing, tattooing, acupuncture, circumcision and scarification. The nosocomial spread of HBV infection in the hospital, particularly in dialysis units, as well as in dental units, has been well described, even when infection control practices are followed. As with other modes of transmission, high vial titers have been related to an increased risk of transmission. People at high-risk of infection include those requiring frequent transfusions or hemodialysis, physicians, dentists, nurses and other healthcare workers, laboratory technicians, intravenous drug users, police, firemen, laundry workers and others who are likely to come into contact with potentially infected blood and blood products.

The risk of chronicity is low (less than 5%) for transmission through sexual contact, intravenous drug use, acupuncture, and transfusion . Individuals at risk for these transmission modes usually acquire HBV infection during adolescence or adulthood without immune tolerance. Instead, the disease progresses directly to the immune clearance phase and is of short duration, which probably accounts for high spontaneous recovery.


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