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The risk of acquiring hepatitis B or C among public safety workers: a systematic review.

CONTEXT: Determination of the occupational risk of hepatitis B and C to public safety workers is important in identifying prevention opportunities and has significant legal and policy implications.

OBJECTIVES: Characterize the risk of occupationally acquired infection: (1) risk of exposure to blood and body fluids, (2) seroprevalence of hepatitis B and C in the source population, and (3) risk of infection after exposure.

DATA SOURCES: Electronic search of MEDLINE (1991-1999), HealthStar (1982-1999), and CINAHL (1975-1999) supplemented by selected reference citations and correspondence with authors of relevant articles.

STUDY SELECTION: Peer-reviewed journal articles (N=702) that addressed the transmission of hepatitis B and C in law enforcement, correctional, fire, emergency medical services, and healthcare personnel were identified. One hundred five (15.0%) articles were selected for full-text retrieval; 72 (68.6%) were selected for inclusion.

DATA ABSTRACTION: Articles selected for inclusion were abstracted by two reviewers and checked by a third reviewer, using a standard reporting form.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Evidence tables were constructed, using the standardized abstracts. The tables were designed to summarize data for the key elements of the risk analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: Data suggest that emergency medical service (EMS) providers are at increased risk of contracting hepatitis B, but data have failed to show an increased prevalence of hepatitis C. EMS providers have exposure risks similar to those of hospital-based healthcare workers. Other public safety workers appear to have lower rates of exposure. Urban areas have much higher prevalence of disease, and public safety workers in those areas are likely to experience a higher incidence of exposure events.

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