The HBV seroprevalence of 13.7% obtained in this study was higher than previous 12.2% HBV infection reported in a national survey among apparently healthy population in Nigeria.12 Overcrowding, poor literacy rates, low socioeconomic status and poor health facilities in prisons remains a concern in developing countries, and is a key causative factor for a myriad of other problems which ultimately turn these custodial settings into fertile breeding grounds for infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B. Prison data provide definitive epidemiological evidence for this cohort of high risk population’s at lower cost than comparable community surveys. 27−30
The HBV current infection seroprevalence of 13.7% obtained in this study is consistent with similarly high seroprevalence of 17.4% in Ghana, 10.9% in Lomé and 14.1% Dakar reported among prison inmates.3,21 However a higher seroprevalence of 23.0% was obtained among inmates in Nasarawa state, Nigeria.1 On the contrary, lower HBV seroprevalence of 2.0%, 3.2%, 8.0%, 6.7% and 6.5% found in Georgia- US, Australia, United Kingdom, Italy and Greece respectively, could be due to low HBV prevalence in developed countries when compared to sub-Saharan Africa.. 4, 31−34
The overall HBcAb sero-prevalence of 38.4% is similar to the findings of 31% and 39.7% in Australia and Spain, however higher than the 17.5% found in a similar study in incarcerated populations in Minas Gerais State-Brazil, 8.7% in Ireland, an average 22.8% in United States of America, although relatively lower than the 57.6% in Greece and 52.7% in Italy. 4, 31−39
The high sero-HBsAg and HBcAb prevalence found among FCT inmate’s prisoners compared to prisoners in the United States of America, Europe and Australia probably reflects the current absence of any harm reduction and HBV preventive interventions in Nigerian prisons when likened to variable extent of implementation of such interventions in prisons of developed world. Additionally, it could also be attributed largely to low HBV endemicity in these regions compared to high endemicity of HBV in the sub-Saharan region in variably accounting for the higher cases of liver cancers reported in sub-Saharan Africa.31,33,36
Conversely, higher HBcAb of 57.6% and 52.7% found in Italy and Greece respectively may be attributed to a possible practice of IDU by inmates – a high-risk behaviour deficient among our study participants. 31,32
Our findings reveal higher HBV current infection rates compared to 12.2% found among asymptomatic Nigerians in first Hepatitis national survey but consistent with the range of 9–39% documented in various studies done across Nigeria in different sub populations mainly healthy blood donors, pregnant women and other high risk group such as commercial sex workers, health care workers and injection drug users.12, 40−45 This study supports previous reports that prisoners represent a high risk group for blood borne diseases like HBV. These findings are suggestive that horizontal transmission aided by cultural or behavioural factors is the main determinant of HBV prevalence in Nigeria. 1,46,47
Our study found that 119 (43.9%) inmates had one or more serologic markers of HBV infection; while 56(20.7%) have, or been previously exposed or a resolved infection. This in conformity with the already established high prevalence HBV infection among inmates and elucidates the report by that 87% of the Nigerian population have at least one HBV serologic marker by the age of 40 years.48
The high prevalence of current HBV infection 37 (13.7%) in this study of which (3)8.1% are asymptomatic HBeAg seropositive which connotes high infectivity; implies potentially infectious unaware inmates fueling the HBV chain of transmission in an overcrowded prison facility. HBsAg and HBeAg determination in sera can be of immense contribution in the management of HBV infection since HBeAg described the infectivity status of the patient as well as the persistence of the chronic HBV infection. Hence, 1.1% of study participants positive for HBeAg in this study have higher chances of developing persistent liver disease leading to cirrhosis and even primary liver cancer if not treated.49
Furthermore, 22(59.5%) of currently infected inmates had positive HBeAb, a marker of recent resolving infection. However, differentiating between acute (HBcAb-IgM) and chronic (HBcAb-IgG) infection is needed to substantiate this fact. This therefore advocates for a larger panel of HBV markers to avoid misclassification of HBV infection and ascertain if HBV infections were acquired intra or extra prison taking into cognisance inmate’s duration of incarceration.9
The 38.4% prevalence rate of HBcAb marker recorded in our study is higher than the 11.4% reported by in Benin, and but similar to 38.2% Benue in Nigeria.9,50
The high prevalence of HBV susceptibility (56.5%) among study participants raises the exigent need for HBV vaccination in prison as to protect this high risk vulnerable subset of inmates given the high rate of exposure of inmates to HBV risk factors before and during incarceration.
The 5.2% of natural HBsAb found among apparently healthy inmates indicates resolved HBV infection and protection against subsequent HBV re-infection.25. Furthermore, the 5.2% artificial immunity found in our study though not truly reflective of the participant’s response on vaccination status could be attributed to recall bias, also explicates the efficacy of vaccination in prevention of the disease and thus draws attention to the gap in HBV vaccination coverage in FCT prison. The American Advisory Committee on immunization and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention strongly advise hepatitis B vaccinations for inmates of long-term correctional facilities and IDUs.51 This study provides basis for effective and evidence-based interventions that will promote reduction in HBV infection related morbidity and mortality in Nigerian prisons. Such interventions include introduction and promotion of universal access to HBV screening, care and vaccination of all susceptible inmates.1,3,4
This study showed statistical significance between Hepatitis B virus infection and age group; younger inmates ≤ 25 years were 8 times more likely to be currently infected with HBV than older inmates, moreso, incarcerated youths have a higher prevalence of behaviours that may predispose them at risk of HBV infections.1,52
Inmates with history of alcohol intake were 3 times more likely to have HBV infection than their counterparts. Alcohol inhibition causes impaired decision making leading to increased HBV risk related behaviours.53
We also found that inmates who have ever been married were 4 times more likely to have HBV infection than inmate who were never married. Unprotected sex is a known of mode of HBV transmission and marriage provides a means of unprotected sex which could increase the chances of exposure and transmission of HBV.43
Surprisingly, only 4.4% of our participants admitted to having ever injected drugs, going by reports that IDU is a common practice among inmates.33,54 This is consistent with the assertion by that IDU is infrequent in sub-Saharan Africa.55 IDU has been implicated as major risk behaviour for HBV transmission among prison inmates. Although none of our subjects confirmed the practice of IDU intra prison, it is possible this probably happens among Nigerian prisoners but at a very minimal level, not enough to influence the outcome.1 However, most of our respondents admitted to smoking of illicit drugs such marijuana (wiwi).
Although no statistical significant association was found between inmates who have multiple sex partners and HBV infection, 75% of participants reported multiple sexual partners while 68% admitted inconsistent condom use during extramarital sex. Growing evidence also suggests that in general, prisoners are more sexually active in the community than the general population with a higher number of sexual partners and lower use of condoms.47,39
Surprisingly, only 1.5% of our subjects admitted to having ever involved in homosexuality although Kuje prison is a male only prison. However, because homosexuality is prohibited in correctional facilities as well as a criminal offence in Nigeria, such exposures were probably underreported by respondents. Also, underreporting might explain why these exposures were not strongly associated with HBV infection in this study. We also found that all inmates (14.5%) who have tattoos had acquired it prior to incarceration though prisoners are reported to frequently tattoo their skins out of boredom, and in the process share needles and ink. These high-risk behaviours place inmates at increased risk of infection with blood-borne viruses in comparison to the rest of the population.47
It is estimated that Kuje prison accommodates about 3 times its originally designated capacity such that over 50% of our respondents share cells with ≤ 20 inmates and a quarter with ≤ 150 inmates. These poor living conditions prevailing in prisons includes overcrowding leads to sexual activities and poor hygiene practices such as sharing of unsterile razors and needles for tattooing, may contribute significantly to the transmission of HBV infection.56 These risk factors are potentials for HBV transmission which exists in clustered prison settings. Clustering ultimately predisposes to events such as altercations which may have the propensity to result in exposures to HBV contaminated body fluids.4,57,58
The limitations encountered in this study include response bias; similar to most behavioural surveys, the issue of under-reporting of prohibited risk behaviours such as illicit drug use, homosexuality abound due to victimization, socio-cultural and religious beliefs concern of the study participants (despite all assurances of confidentiality during the study). The inability to differentiate between inmates with current acute infection and those with chronically infected or an occult HBV infection was encountered as HBV viral load and HBcAb- IgG and HBcAb- IgM was not be assayed. Owing to the cross-sectional study design used it was difficult to definitively ascertain if the prison inmates acquired the infection within or outside of the prison.