OBJECTIVES: During the past decades, the influx of immigrants from hepatitis B virus (HBV) endemic regions has brought significant changes in the prevalence of HBV-associated liver diseases and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in the United States. Our program, which was intended to identify those in need of hepatitis B vaccination, helped us to learn of the natural history of HBV infection in Korean Americans. METHODS: Between November of 1988 and May 1990, we screened 6,130 Korean Americans in the eastern United States for HBV infection. RESULTS: The overall hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) (+) rate was 6.1%, with 8.0% for males and 4.4% for females. The carrier rate peaked in subjects between the ages of 21 and 40 yr. The HBsAg (+) rate for 452 U.S.-born children was lower (2.7%) than that of 623 Korean-born (5.5%). None received hepatitis B immune-globulin or HBV vaccination. The vertical transmission rate was 30.3% in children born to HBsAg (+) mothers and 100% in those born to hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) positive mothers. In contrast, the paternal transmission rate was low; 10.3% in children with HBsAg (+) fathers and 19.2% in those with HBeAg (+) fathers. Another significant observation was the unexpected finding of ongoing liver diseases in incidentally identified carriers. Evaluation of 139 asymptomatic adult carriers revealed that 42% had elevated liver enzymes and 11% had already developed liver cirrhosis. CONCLUSION: These findings strongly suggest the need for active HBV screening of immigrants from endemic regions and, most importantly, the need for careful monitoring of the carriers.
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