Epidemiology of hepatitis B infection in the Western Pacific and South East Asia.
The Western Pacific and South East Asia regions are the largest and most populous of the six World Health Organisation regions and include more than 40 countries. More than 75% of the world's estimated 350 million carriers are located here. The region has therefore provided many insights into the epidemiology, natural history, and control of hepatitis B infection and has been home to the first national control programmes. Hepatitis B is hyperendemic in most countries of the region, with carrier rates ranging from 5-35% except in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, where the mean carrier rate is less than 2%. Patterns of infection vary considerably from country to country, city to city, and even village to village, and can change with time. Most infections are acquired early in childhood or in early adult life. A variety of control measures are in place and many countries in the region have introduced widespread or universal childhood immunisation policies with significant success. While it is theoretically possible that hepatitis B infection could be eradicated by universal childhood immunisation, there are several biological and practical issues that make this extremely difficult, suggesting that, for the foreseeable future, control may be a more realisable goal.