National Hepatitis B Strategy 2010–2013

5.2 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Page last updated: July 2010

While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples represent only 2% of the Australian population, they make up an estimated 16% of those living with chronic hepatitis B.

The prevalence of chronic hepatitis B among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians varies according to place of residence, with estimates varying from 2% for urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations to 8% for rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations with remote Aboriginal communities likely to have higher prevalence rates and higher rates of liver cancer.5 A study from Darwin in 2003 found an overall prevalence of hepatitis B surface antigen in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander pregnant women of 4.07% and non-indigenous women of 1.16%.6

On notifications of chronic hepatitis B, differences have been identified between the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and the non-indigenous population. Age standardised rates were 89 per 100 000 in 2004 and 114 per 100 000 in 2005 for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, versus 15 per 100 000 in 2004 and 16 per 100 000 in 2005 for the non-indigenous population. Significantly higher rates were also found among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in remote areas (153 per 100 000) compared to rural areas (24 per 100 000) and urban areas are (47.5 per 100 000). 7

Death rates for all causes of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis between 1991 and 1995 were 4 and 5.5 times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women respectively compared to the general Australian population.8 While few clinical specialists report treating Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples, Alice Springs Hospital report Aboriginal people dying as a result of chronic hepatitis B infection.9

Top of Page
5 Homewood J, Coory M & Dinh B ‘Cancer among people living in rural and remote indigenous communities in Queensland: an update 1997–2002’, Queensland Health, 2005
6 Romanes F ‘Retrospective audit of immunoglobulin and vaccine uptake in infants at risk of perinatal transmission of hepatitis B virus’, The Northern Territory Disease Control Bulletin, 2006.
7 Communicable Disease Control Directorate, Department of Health, Western Australia, ‘The epidemiology of notifiable sexually transmitted infections and blood-borne viruses in Western Australia’, 2005.
8 Fisher D & Huffman S ‘Management of chronic hepatitis B infection in remotedwelling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders: an update for primary health care providers’, Medical Journal of Australia, 2003.
9 Einsiedel L, Fernandez L & Woodman R ‘Racial disabilities in infection related mortality at Alice Springs Hospital, Central Australia, 2000–2005’, Medical Journal of Australia, 2008.