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close this bookWHO Recommended Surveillance Standards (WHO; 1999; 157 pages)
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentNational Coordination of Communicable Disease Surveillance
View the documentExplanatory notes
View the documentSurveillance activities: criteria and WHO Department
View the documentCommunicable disease contacts in Regional Offices
close this folderDiseases
View the documentB20-B21-B22-B23-B24 AIDS
View the documentA22 Anthrax
View the documentA23 Brucellosis
View the documentA00 Cholera
View the documentA81.0 Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
View the documentA90, A91 Dengue fever (A90) including Dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) & Dengue shock syndrome (DSS, A91)
View the documentA36 Diphtheria
View the documentB72 Dracunculiasis (Guinea worm disease)
View the documentA98.3, A98.4 Ebola-Marburg viral diseases
View the documentA83.0 Japanese encephalitis
View the documentB74 Lymphatic filariasis
View the documentB96.3 Haemophilus influenzae type b
View the documentB15-B17 Acute viral hepatitis
View the documentB20-B24 HIV infection
View the documentJ10, J11 Influenza
View the documentA96.2 Lassa fever
View the documentA48.1 Legionellosis
View the documentB55.1, B55.2 Cutaneous leishmaniasis
View the documentLeishmania / HIV co-infections
View the documentB55.0 Visceral leishmaniasis
View the documentA30 Leprosy
View the documentA27 Leptospirosis
View the documentB50-54 Malaria
View the documentB05 Measles
View the documentA39 Meningococcal disease
View the documentA87 Viral meningitis
View the documentB73 Onchocerciasis
View the documentA37.0 Pertussis
View the documentA20 Plague
View the documentA36 Poliomyelitis
View the documentA82 Rabies
View the documentA02.0 Salmonellosis
View the documentB65 Schistosomiasis
View the documentA50-52 Syphilis
View the documentA33 Tetanus, neonatal
View the documentB56-0, B56-1 African trypanosomiasis
View the documentB57 American trypanosomiasis
View the documentA15-A19 Tuberculosis
View the documentA75.3 Scrub typhus
View the documentA95.9 Yellow fever
open this folder and view contentsSyndromes
View the documentAnnex 1 Software free and in the public domain
View the documentAnnex 2 Proposed surveillance definitions
View the documentAnnex 3 Role and use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and mapping for epidemiological surveillance

B15-B17 Acute viral hepatitis


Estimates suggest that worldwide, there are 385 million carriers of hepatitis B virus and 170 million carriers of hepatitis C virus. More than 1 million deaths each year are attributable to hepatitis B. Transmission is mainly oral-faecal for hepatitis A and E, percutaneous for hepatitis B, C, and D and sexual for hepatitis B. The course of the disease may be fulminating (e.g., hepatitis E in pregnancy); chronic infection and severe sequelae occur for hepatitis B, C, and D. Control measures include transfusion safety, safe and appropriate use of injections and (for hepatitis A and hepatitis B) immunization. Hepatitis B is targeted by WHO (9GPW6.3) for reduced incidence/prevalence.


Clinical description

Acute illness typically including acute jaundice, dark urine, anorexia, malaise, extreme fatigue, and right upper quadrant tenderness. Biological signs include increased urine urobilonogen and >2.5 times the upper limit of serum alanine aminotransferase.


Note: Most infections occur in early childhood. A variable proportion of adult infections is asymptomatic.

Laboratory criteria for diagnosis


Hepatitis A: IgM anti-HAV positive

Hepatitis B: +ve for Hepatitis B surface antigen (HbsAg) or IgM anti-HBc-positive

Non-A, non-B: IgM anti-HAV and IgM anti-HBc (or HBsAg) negative


Note 1: The anti-HBc IgM test, specific for acute infection, is not available in most countries. HbsAg, often available, cannot distinguish between acute new infections and exacerbations of chronic hepatitis B, although continued HBsAg seropositivity (>6 months) is an indicator of chronic infection.

Note 2: For patients negative for hepatitis A or B, further testing for a diagnosis of acute hepatitis C, D, or E is recommended:


Hepatitis C: anti-HCV positive

Hepatitis D: HbsAg positive or IgM anti-HBc positive plus anti-HDV positive (only as co-infection or super-infection of hepatitis B)

Hepatitis E: IgM anti-HEV positive

Case classification

Suspected: A case that is compatible with the clinical description.

Probable: Not applicable.

Confirmed: A suspected case that is laboratory confirmed or, for hepatitis A only, a case compatible with the clinical description, in a person who has an epidemiological link with a laboratory-confirmed case of hepatitis A (i.e. household or sexual contact with an infected person during the 15-50 days before the onset of symptoms).



• Routine monthly reporting of aggregated data of suspected cases, and if available, the number of confirmed cases of each type of hepatitis, from the peripheral level to intermediate and central levels

• Zero reporting required at all levels

• When countrywide surveillance is not possible, surveillance in sentinel areas or hospitals may provide useful information on potential sources of infection.

All outbreaks should be investigated immediately and confirmed serologically.


Aggregated data


• Number of third doses of hepatitis B vaccine (HepB3) administered to infants

• Number of injections received in the 6 weeks to 6 months preceding symptoms of acute hepatitis (whatever the etiology)

• Number of suspect cases

• If available, number of confirmed cases for each type of hepatitis

(from multiple sources, in addition to surveillance data)


• HepB3 coverage in infants by year and geographic area

• Incidence of acute viral hepatitis by year, month, geographical area, and (if data exist) by age group and type of virus

• Proportion of all cases of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and primary liver cancer that are HbsAg positive or anti-HCV positive (see Special Aspects)

• Comparing the proportion of patients who received an injection in the 6 weeks to 6 months preceding symptoms among hepatitis A and hepatitis B cases helps to estimate the proportion of hepatitis B virus infections that are attributable to injections



• Monitor HepB3 immunization coverage by geographic area to measure areas with weak performance and take action

• Investigate all suspected/reported outbreaks

• Determine the specific cause of acute viral hepatitis cases (reported routinely or during outbreaks), so that corrective measures can be taken

• Evaluate the effectiveness of injection safety programmes

• Measure the proportion of acute viral hepatitis, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and primary liver cancer that are hepatitis B virus or hepatitis C virus carriers to:

• Determine the burden of the disease in the population

• Prioritize among other diseases of public health importance; and

• Choose the proper strategies for control


Accurate differential diagnosis of viral hepatitis types requires serological testing - unavailable in many developing countries. In developing countries where most infections occur asymptomatically, a low incidence of reported acute viral hepatitis should not be misinterpreted as a low incidence of viral hepatitis infection.

Understanding the epidemiology and impact of viral hepatitis requires enhanced surveillance and an understanding of the sequelae of hepatitis B, C and D virus infection, such as asymptomatic chronic infection, chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and primary liver cancer. This also requires data collection from sources not routinely used, including hospital surveillance data such as hospital discharges, and mortality (chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver cancer) and cancer registers. Special sero-prevalence surveys may be needed to measure prevalence of hepatitis B and C infection in the general population and in special groups (health care workers, blood donors, pregnant women, military recruits, patients with liver disease, people on dialysis, haemophiliacs), and ethnic sub-populations.

Assessment for coverage of hepatitis B vaccine is similar to that for other vaccines. Hepatitis vaccine is given to infants (and in some industrial countries to adolescents) primarily to prevent the development of chronic liver disease and liver cancer. Serological testing to document sero-conversion in children is usually not necessary: studies show that vaccine is 85% to 100% effective in preventing chronic infection.


Regional Offices

See Regional Office contacts on section "Communicable disease contacts in Regional Offices".

Headquarters: 20 avenue Appia, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

Vaccines and other Biologicals (VAB)


E-mail: wengerj@who.ch
Tel: (41 22) 791 4408/4410/2111
Fax (4122) 7910746 attn VAB

Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response (CSR)


E-mail: lavanchyd@who.ch / Surveillancekit@.who.ch
Tel: (41 22) 791 2656/2850/2111
Fax: (41 22) 7914878
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