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Evidence of hepatitis virus infection among Australian prisoners of war during World War II

Medical Journal of Australia 147(5): 229-230

Evidence of hepatitis virus infection among Australian prisoners of war during World War II

A sample of Australian male veterans of World War II was surveyed after 40 years. One hundred and seventy veterans had been held by the Japanese as prisoners of war and 172 veterans had served in southeast Asia but had not been taken captive (non-prisoners of war). A medical history was obtained and a physical examination undertaken. Blood was drawn and analysed for standard liver biochemistry and serological markers of hepatitis A and B virus (HAV, HBV) infections. The prevalence of immunoglobulin (Ig)G class antibodies to HAV was 95.2% in non-prisoners and war and 93.3% in prisoners of war. Only three cases of hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) seropositivity were identified (two cases from the prisoner-of-war group). Thirty-six (21.8%) prisoners of war were seropositive for the presence of antibodies to HBsAg (anti-HBs) and 34 (20.0%) prisoners of war for that of antibodies to hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc), compared with 16 (9.8%) and eight (4.7%) of the non-prisoners of war, respectively (P = 0.002 and P = 0.0001, respectively). Those veterans who reported jaundice during World War II had a higher prevalence of antibodies to HBV. Among prisoners of war who were forced to work on the Burma-Thailand railway, 24.1% were seropositive for anti-HBc compared with 11.1% of the remaining prisoners of war (P = 0.048). It would appear that hepatitis B was common in prisoners of war but that those who survived 40 years were able to clear the virus and do not appear to have significant liver disease.

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Accession: 005411452

PMID: 3499558

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