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Hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although the United Kingdom (UK) prevalence of HBV is low, it is increasing. There is some evidence that the rate of infection is much higher in some populations living in Britain of non-white ethnicity or who were not born in Britain, compared with the British-born white population. We examined the prevalence of HBV infection in pregnant women through hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) or e-antigen (HBeAg) in Birmingham UK between May 2004 and December 2008 and the effect of ethnicity on the relative risk of infection. There was a significant increase in the number of antenatal HBV infections detected over the study period from 106 cases in 2005 to 161 cases in 2008 (p=0.037). Women who define themselves as of black African, non-British white and Pakistani ethnicity had a markedly elevated rate of HBV infection (relative risk (RR): 11.25, 5.87 and 2.33 respectively) compared to the England average. Health organisations that serve populations with a high or increasing proportion of women originating from intermediate and high HBV prevalence areas of the world such as Africa, some parts of Europe and Asia, should anticipate a need for perinatal and postnatal prophylaxis to children born to HBV infected mothers.


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