Norway is classified as a low prevalence country for hepatitis B virus infection. Vaccination is only recommended for risk groups (intravenous drug users (IDUs), Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), immigrants and contacts of known carriers). We describe the epidemiology of reported cases of hepatitis B in Norway, during the years 1992-2009 in order to assess the validity of current risk groups and recommend preventive measures.
We used case based data from the national surveillance system on acute and chronic hepatitis B. The Norwegian Statistics Bureau provided population and migration data and the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research the estimated number of active IDUs between 2002-2007. Incidence rates (IR) and incidence rate ratios (IRR) for acute hepatitis B and notification rates (NR) and notification rate ratios (NRR) for chronic hepatitis B with 95% confidence intervals were calculated.
The annual IR of acute hepatitis B ranged from 0.7/100,000 (1992) to 10.6/100,000 (1999). Transmission occurred mainly among IDUs (64%) or through sexual contact (24%). The risk of acquiring acute hepatitis B was highest in people aged 20-29 (IRR = 6.6 [3.3-13.3]), and in males (IRR = 2.4 [1.7-3.3]). We observed two peaks of newly reported chronic hepatitis B cases in 2003 and 2009 (NR = 17.6/100,000 and 17.4/100,000, respectively). Chronic hepatitis B was more likely to be diagnosed among immigrants than among Norwegians (NRR = 93 [71.9-120.6]), and among those 20-29 compared to those 50-59 (NRR = 5.2 [3.5-7.9]).
IDUs remain the largest risk group for acute hepatitis B. The observed peaks of chronic hepatitis B are related to increased immigration from high endemic countries and screening and vaccination of these groups is important to prevent further spread of infection. Universal screening of pregnant women should be introduced. A universal vaccination strategy should be considered, given the high cost of reaching the target populations. We recommend evaluating the surveillance system for hepatitis B as well as the effectiveness of screening and vaccinating immigrant populations.