Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom. email@example.com
Age at infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a known risk factor for chronic HBV infection. However, in addition, there is some evidence that early age at infection further increases the risk of primary liver cancer beyond its association with increased risk of chronic infection. This systematic review of observational studies assesses the association between age at initiation of chronic HBV infection and liver cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma, and their predictors including indicators of ongoing viral replication and hepatic damage. The review includes birth order and maternal HBV serology as proxies for age at infection. Electronic searches in two English-language (Medline and Embase, until Jan 2012) and two Chinese-language (CNKI and SinoMed, until Sep 2012) databases without language restriction and manual search through reference lists identified 7,077 papers, of which 19 studies of 21 outcomes (8 primary liver cancer, 1 liver cirrhosis, 10 viral replication and 2 liver inflammation) are included. One study directly examined the age at infection in a longitudinal cohort, 12 assessed maternal sero-status and 6 investigated birth order. The direction of associations in all studies was in accordance with our hypothesis that earlier age at infection is associated with worse outcomes in addition to its effect of increasing the probability of chronic HBV infection. This has implications for the control of hepatitis B.