In The Netherlands, in May 1999 an enhanced surveillance of hepatitis B was begun to collect detailed information of patients with acute hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. The objective was to gain insight in transmission routes and source of infection of new HBV cases. Through public health services, patients were interviewed on risk factors. It appeared that the majority (59%) acquired the infection through sexual contact; 52% of these by homosexual and 48% by heterosexual contact. In 60% of the heterosexual cases, the source of infection was a partner originating from a hepatitis B-endemic region. Sexual transmission is the most common route of transmission of acute hepatitis B in The Netherlands and introduction of infections from abroad plays a key role in the current epidemiology of HBV. As well as prevention programmes targeted at sexual high-risk groups, prevention efforts should focus more on the heterosexual transmission from HBV carriers.
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