Antibody to hepatitis B surface antigen was detected by radioimmunoprecipitation in 74 (5·5%) of 1336 staff members in a large general hospital in Edinburgh, in 14 (2·9%) of 480 volunteer blood donors in the area, and in 12 (6·1%) of 197 pregnant women attending for the first time at the ante-natal clinic in the hospital. Rates of antibody prevalence rose with age in the sample of hospital staff and in that of the blood donors, particularly among males. On the other hand, in the ante-natal patients antibody prevalence declined with age.
The rates in hospital staff were higher than those in blood donors of comparable age and sex, and high titres of antibody were more common in the staff group. However, no association was found between antibody prevalence and a history of clinical hepatitis, blood transfusion, or recognized contact with cases of hepatitis. Staff who had previously worked in an infectious disease hospital did not show increased antibody prevalence, indicating that simple isolation measures have been adequate to minimize exposure to hepatitis B.
No particular prevalence of infection was seen in physicians and surgeons, in the nursing staff, or in workers in clinical diagnostic laboratories, hospital administration or other areas. One group clearly showing increased antibody prevalence was staff currently working, or who had worked, in the Haemodialysis Unit; this correlated with the outbreak of dialysis-associated hepatitis in 1969–70. However, no evidence suggested that significant dissemination of infection had occurred to other defined groups of hospital staff. Elevated rates were also observed in a small sample of kitchen and portering staff, and in obstetric medical and nursing staff; the latter observations indicate a need for further investigation to identify unsuspected exposure to hepatitis B virus.