Boat blast leads to spread of hepatitis B

THE explosion that tore through a boat of asylum seekers near Ashmore Reef, off Western Australia, two years ago led to the first recorded cases of hepatitis B (HBV) transmission via a “mass casualty” incident.

A cluster of eight HBV infections was identified among the 23 seriously injured Afghan refugees and Indonesian boat crew brought to Australia for hospital treatment, then detention, in the months following the blast.

One patient was found to be an HBV carrier, according to a paper by Perth-based doctors, which suggested transmission occurred at the time of the blast or during initial rescue and first aid of the badly burned passengers and crew.

J Infect Dis 2011; 204:400-07