Epidemiology and Infection

For Debate

Protecting contacts of hepatitis A: what's the difference between vaccine and human normal immunoglobulin?


a1 Immunisation Department, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, London, UK


The efficacy of vaccine when time since exposure is prolonged (more than 1 week from onset of illness in the index case) is unknown, but is likely to be significantly lower than human normal immunoglobulin (HNIG). We estimated the number of additional secondary cases that may occur through giving vaccine instead of HNIG to contacts of cases of hepatitis A who are identified more than 1 week after onset in the index case. This was calculated for different levels of vaccine efficacy, assuming HNIG efficacy to be 80–90%. The number of households that need to be treated to prevent one secondary case was calculated using estimates of secondary attack ratios (AR). If more than 1 week has elapsed from onset of illness in the index case, for an average household size of 2·3 people, a vaccine efficacy of 50% and an AR of 10–25%, 8–26 households would need to be treated with vaccine before one additional secondary case would be observed. As UK public health professionals manage around one hepatitis A case per month, it would take from 8 months to over 2 years for them to observe one additional case amongst contacts using vaccine rather than HNIG. It is unlikely that an average practitioner would notice if vaccine were 30% less effective than HNIG. Public health practice and advice to patients and contacts should be based on evidence as well as experience.

(Accepted February 07 2007)

(Online publication March 12 2007)


c1 Author for correspondence: Dr N. S. Crowcroft, Consultant Epidemiologist, Immunisation Department, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, UK. (Email: natasha.crowcroft@hpa.org.uk)