Viral hepatitis risk in urban emergency medical services personnel

Paul E. Pepe, F. Blaine Hollinger, Catherine L. Troisi, Dorothy Heiberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Houston has large groups of people known to be at high risk for hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are continuously exposed to blood from these high-risk individuals. We sought to determine the prevalence of HBV infection in the city's EMS personnel. Of the 350 Houston firefighters assigned to EMS, 344 were surveyed by questionnaire and a blood specimen was obtained. Each sample was assayed by radio-immunoassay or enzyme-linked immunoassay for hepatitis A antibody (anti-HAV), hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg), and antibodies to HBsAg (anti-HBs) and hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc). A history of hepatitis was reported by 19 persons, 17 of whom had serologic evidence of infection with HAV (56%), HBV (26%), or both diseases (11%). The anti-HAV prevalence was 16% (12% in whites and 35% in nonwhites; P < .001). No correlation was observed with years of occupational exposure. Of the 338 personnel evaluated for HBV seromarkers (six HBsAg-vaccinated subjects were excluded), 13% were positive; 0.6% had an active infection as determined by the presence of both HBsAg and anti-HBc; 6.8% were both anti-HBs and anti-HBc positive; 0.9% were positive for anti-HBc alone; and 4.7% of the sera contained only anti-HBs (all with geometric mean antibody levels of ≤ 13 mIU/mL). The 28 individuals (8.3%) whose sera contained anti-HBc were classified as cases of previous or concurrent HBV infection. A strong correlation (P < .004) was observed between HBV infection and years of work exposure in EMS regardless of job description (paramedic versus emergency medical technician). For personnel with seven or more years of EMS experience, 15% had evidence of HBV infection (versus 2.8% for those with 2 years or less). A cohort effect based on age was excluded. We conclude that urban EMS personnel are at increased risk of hepatitis B infection and should receive preexposure prophylaxis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)454-457
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of emergency medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1986


  • emergency medical services, personnel, viral hepatitis and
  • hepatitis, viral, emergency medical services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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