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BACKGROUND: HIV and hepatitis B virus (HBV) prevalence are both high in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. HIV coinfection negatively affects HBV prognosis and can increase the likelihood of HBV mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). In an early HIV infant treatment intervention cohort of HIV-transmitting mother-child pairs in KwaZulu-Natal, we characterized maternal HBV prevalence and screened infants at risk. METHODS: Infants were treated for HIV MTCT at birth, and combination regimens incidentally active against HBV were initiated within 21 days. Maternal samples (N = 175) were screened at birth for HBV infection (HBV surface antigen [HBsAg]), exposure to HBV (HBV anti-core IgG), and vaccination responses (HBV anti-S positive without other HBV markers). Infants of mothers who were HBV positive were screened for HBsAg at 1 and 12 months. RESULTS: Evidence of HBV infection was present in 8.6% (n = 15) of maternal samples. Biomarkers for HBV exposure were present in 31.4% (n = 55). Evidence of HBV vaccination was uncommon in mothers (8.0%; n = 14). Despite prescription of antiretroviral therapy (ART) active against HBV, HBV DNA was detectable in 46.7% (7/15) of mothers who were HBsAg positive. Three mothers had HBV viral loads >5.3 log10 IU/mL, making them high risk for HBV MTCT. Screening of available infant samples at 1 month (n = 14) revealed no cases of HBV MTCT. At 12 months, we identified 1 HBV infection (1/13), and serologic evidence of vaccination was present in 53.8% (7/13) of infants. DISCUSSION: This vulnerable cohort of HIV-transmitting mothers had a high prevalence of undiagnosed HBV. Early infant ART may have reduced the risk of MTCT in high-risk cases. Current HBV guidelines recommend ART prophylaxis, but these data underline the pressing need to increase availability of birth dose vaccines.

Original publication




Journal article


Open Forum Infect Dis

Publication Date





HIV, PMTCT, South Africa, antiretroviral therapy, hepatitis B virus