Prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in patients with chronic schizophrenia living in institutions : Journal of the Chinese Medical Association

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Original Article

Prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in patients with chronic schizophrenia living in institutions

Hung, Chia-Chuna; Loh, El-Wuib; Hu, Tsung-Mingc; Chiu, Hsien-Janed; Hsieh, Hung-Chiehc; Chan, Chin-Honga; Lan, Tsuo-Hunga,*

Author Information
Journal of the Chinese Medical Association: June 2012 - Volume 75 - Issue 6 - p 275-280
doi: 10.1016/j.jcma.2012.03.002


    1. Introduction

    July 28, 2011 was designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the first annual World Hepatitis Day, in order to increase global awareness of the problem of hepatitis—nearly one out of every three people in the world has been infected by hepatitis virus. According to the most recent WHO report, approximately 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV), and an estimated 600,000 people die every year due to the acute or chronic consequences of hepatitis B. At any given time, about 130–170 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis C virus (HCV), and more than 350,000 people die from hepatitis C-related liver diseases each year.1 The statistics suggests that there is a further need to prevent, screen for, and intervene early cases of HBV and HCV infection.

    The prevalence of chronic HBV infection is about 5% worldwide, but this figure varies substantially between regions. Infection rates are low (0.1–2.0%) in the United States and Western Europe, intermediate (2.0–8.0%) in Mediterranean countries and Japan, and high (8.0–20.0%) in South-East Asia and the sub-Saharan regions.2 HCV infection is of epidemic proportions worldwide. Countries with high rates of chronic infection are Egypt (22%), Pakistan (4.8%), and China (3.2%).1 Taiwan is among the countries where the infection is highly prevalent, with 15–20% of the general population suffering from chronic HBV infection3–6 and an estimated 4.4% of the general population with chronic HCV infection.6

    Previous studies have reported a higher infection rate with HBV and HCV in specific groups, such as parenteral drug users, male homosexuals, immunosuppressed patients, those with hemophilia, and patients undergoing dialysis. A higher incidence of hepatitis has also been identified in healthcare workers, ambulance personnel, teachers, and staff in institutions such as retirement homes and institutions for the intellectual disability7–9 and those suffering serious mental illness.10–12 Associated with their psychiatric impairment, persons with severe mental illness are at an increased risk for several co-morbid conditions, including substance use disorder.13 They are also likely to be overrepresented in high-risk categories for infections such as HBV and HCV.11

    However, few studies have focused on HBV and HCV infection rates among institutionalized patients with severe mental illness, especially in a country with a high prevalence of HBV. In an attempt to further assist in the prevention and control of such an important public health concern, we conducted a study to investigate the prevalence of HBV and HCV infection in subjects with and without impaired liver function among institutionalized schizophrenic patients in Taiwan.

    2. Methods

    2.1. Subjects

    In this study, 590 patients who met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, text revision (DSM-IV-TR)14 criteria for schizophrenia were recruited from the Yuli Veterans Hospital, a facility that is affiliated to one of the largest mental hospitals in Taiwan. The Yuli Veterans Hospital is operated under the concept of therapeutic communities.15 The details of the research and the procedures were fully explained to all the subjects, and written informed consent was obtained from all patients. The study was approved by the Institutional Research Board of Yuli Veterans Hospital.

    2.2. Demographic data

    As shown in Table 1, a total of 590 schizophrenic patients were recruited for this study, all of whom were inpatients at Yuli Veterans Hospital. Of those patients, 203 (34.4%) were 40–49 years of age. The mean age of the study subjects was 42.5±10.67 years (range 20–83 years). Overall, 348 (59.0%) patients were men and 242 (41.0%) were women. Most patients (34.4%) were senior high school graduates. All study subjects had been hospitalized for more than 1 year at Yuli Veterans Hospital.

    Table 1:
    The demographic data of schizophrenia patients in this study.

    2.3. Serological analysis

    Blood samples were collected in April 2000 and examined in the clinical laboratories of Yuli Veterans Hospital. HBV surface antigen (HBsAg) was tested using a microparticle enzyme immunoassay (MEIA) method (AxSYM HBsAg (V2); No.7A40 -22). Antibodies to HCV were assessed in serum using MEIA (Abbott AxSYM HCV version 3.0; No.3B44-20, Abbott Laboratories Limited, Diagnostic Division, Abbott House, Norden Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 4XF, England). Initially reactive assays were repeated in duplicate. At least two reactive results constituted a final result of an HCV-positive status. Results suggested an overall confirmation rate of more than 99% of MEIA-positive tests. Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) were also tested, levels below 0.75μkat/L being considered to be within the normal range.

    2.4. Statistical methods

    Distributions of HBV and HCV carriers and noninfected subjects in terms of age, gender, and liver function test results were examined using χ2 tests for categorical variables. All statistical tests were two-sided, conducted at a significance level of 0.05. All analyses were performed using SPSS software version 15 (International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), Armonk, New York, United States).

    3. Results

    3.1. HBV prevalence

    The results of HBsAg testing are shown in Table 2. The test reports were available for 570 out of 590 patients. The seroprevalence rate for HBsAg was 10.4%, including 43 males (12.6%) and 16 females (7.0%). Among the patients positive for HBsAg, there was no significant difference in age, educational level, or history of alcohol or cigarette use, except for gender. Among the patients positive for HBsAg, 72.9% were males and 27.1% were females (p=0.035). Two patients (3.4%) with elevated AST and 19 patients (32.2%) with elevated ALT were noted. There was no difference in AST between patients who tested positive or negative for HbsAg (p=0.709), but disproportionally high levels of ALT were noted in patients who tested positive for HbsAg (p=0.022).

    Table 2:
    The sero-prevalence of HBsAg in chronic institutionally resided schizophrenia patients.

    3.2. HCV prevalence

    The result of anti-HCV testing is shown in Table 3. Anti-HCV test reports were available for 588 of the 590 patients. The seroprevalence rate of anti-HCV was 1.9%, including nine males (2.6%) and two females (0.8%). There was no significant difference in the demographic data among patients who were anti-HCV positive. There was a higher proportion of abnormal AST (81.8%, p=0.042) and ALT (72.7%, p<0.0001) levels among anti-HCV-positive patients compared to anti-HCV-negative patients. Three of 11 patients with anti-HCV-positive readings had impaired liver function with levels above two folds the normal upper range (data not shown).

    Table 3:
    The sero-prevalence of anti-HCV in chronic institutionally resided schizophrenia patients.

    3.3. HBV and HCV co-infection

    There was only one patient with concurrent HBV and HCV infection (0.2%).

    4. Discussion

    Previous epidemiological data indicate that patients with serious mental illnesses are at increased risk for HBV and HCV infection.10–12 According to current guidelines,9,16 all patients with chronic HBV and HCV infection, especially those with impaired liver function, should be assessed to determine whether they might benefit from therapy. In our study, no patient with chronic HBV or HCV infection ever underwent this treatment evaluation. The burden of HBV and HCV infections and the consequences may thus be underestimated.

    The prevalence of HBV in Taiwan ranges from 10% to 17.3%, according to different surveys (Table 4).6,17–24 In our study, the prevalence of HBV among patients with schizophrenia appeared to be lower than that in the general population. The likelihood that an HBV infection will become chronic depends upon the age at which a person becomes infected, with young children infected with HBV being most likely to develop chronic hepatitis.1,25 Most patients with chronic hepatitis B in Taiwan have been infected via perinatal transmission that occurred before the implementation of the national hepatitis B vaccination program in 1984.25

    Table 4:
    Comparison of the prevalence in the general population in Taiwan.

    Acute HBV infection may cause acute hepatic failure and mortality. Several studies have reported that HBV contributes to 7–32% of the etiology of acute hepatic failure.26–29 It is reasonable to imply that a proportion of schizophrenic patients may have died from acute hepatic failure during acute infection or reactivation, and thus have not been included in our statistics. In addition, long-term hospitalization may prevent patients with chronic schizophrenia from exposure to risky behaviors, such as tattooing, intravenous drug abuse, inappropriate sexual contact, ear piercing, etc., thus reducing the risk for HBV infection.

    Furthermore, the prevalence of hepatitis in schizophrenic patients might have been reduced by the vaccination program that has been promoted by the Department of Health in Taiwan since 1984. The program began with free-of-charge vaccination of newborn babies, and then gradually included older people. Eventually, all citizens with HBsAg-negative serum, including institutionalized patients with mental illness, were offered the vaccination.30,31 Consequently, the prevalence rate of hepatitis B has declined in Taiwan in recent years.9,13,16,32–39 This decline in prevalence rate may also be seen in institutionalized patients with serious mental illness.

    The prevalence of HCV varies among studies in normal populations. Merican et al reported the lowest HCV prevalence of 1.00%;17 Sun et al reported an HCV prevalence of 1.60–19.60%, with a mean prevalence of 2.28%.40 The prevalence of HCV in patients in our study is similar to that seen in other surveys in Taiwan during the first decade of the 21st century (Table 4). Wang et al reported the highest prevalence of approximately 17% in a town in southern Taiwan with the most elevated HCV prevalence, whereas Lin et al reported a 16.7% prevalence rate of HCV in Eastern Taiwan, with a range of 3.6–27.5% among different aboriginal villages.23

    HCV is less efficiently transmitted by single small-dose percutaneous exposures (e.g., accidental needlestick injuries)41,42 or by mucosal exposures to blood or serum-derived fluids (e.g., birth to an infected mother, sexual contact with an infected partner).11,41,43 Transmission of HCV is mainly caused by cross-contamination from reused needles and syringes, multiple-use medication vials, infusion bags, and injection drug use devices.44–46 As to how this affects chronically institutionalized patients with schizophrenia, HCV transmission may be lower in this population due to heightened levels of medical attention given to the patients and their less risky behaviors, as mentioned above.

    The prevalences of HBV and HCV in our study were no higher than the prevalences in other studies investigating psychiatric patients (Table 5). Said et al reported an HBV prevalence of 7.29% in patients with serious mental illness.12 Chaudhury et al reported a prevalence rate of 12% of HBV in mentally ill patients, which was 5.5 times higher than the equivalent prevalence in the matched controls.8 Rosenberg et al reported a prevalences of 23.4% for HBV and 19.6% for HCV in serious mentally ill patients, values that were five and 11 times higher than those in the overall general population, respectively.11 Sixty-five per cent of patients mentioned in Rosenbery et al's study were recruited from the outpatient clinic, and 75% of patients with HCV infection were self-reported injection drug users.

    Table 5:
    Comparison of prevalence in serious mental illness.

    These authors concluded that elevated rates within several risk categories may reflect the poverty, risky environments, and overall poor health and medical care that are common in many people with severe mental illness. On the other hand, patients with schizophrenia in the Yuli Veterans Hospital were housed in open dormitories with medical professionals on duty, with extensive space provided for leisure and physical activities.15 The protective, medically supervised environment may keep these patients from risky behaviors and thus reduce the rates of infectious disease (Tables 4 and 5).6,8,11,12,16–24,41,47

    In conclusion, our study showed that the prevalences of HBV and HCV among institutionalized patients with chronic schizophrenia were no higher than those in the general population. The patients recruited in this study were all permanent residents of the Yuli Veterans Hospital and were considered to be chronically ill.15 These patients came from not only neighboring cities, but also the entire country, and could be representative of the patient population with chronic schizophrenia throughout Taiwan. The commodious environment and available medical resources of the hospital where the patients resided might have prevented an elevation of HBV and HCV infection rates, which is worth further exploration.


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    hepatitis B; hepatitis C; prevalence; schizophrenia

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