Serums from patients with acute viral hepatitis were tested for the presence of the serum-hepatitis (SH) antigen to determine whether this would permit distinction between the two major types of viral hepatitis. None of four patients with short-incubation MS-1 infection (Willowbrook) had detectable antigen, whereas this antigen was identified in all eight cases of long-incubation MS-2 infection (Willowbrook). Correspondingly, only one out of 74 cases associated with four epidemics of infectious hepatitis, and none of 19 sporadic cases occurring in children under the age of 14 showed presence of detectable antigen, whereas 76 of 116 cases (66 per cent) that followed exposure to contaminated needles and 25 of 43 post-transfusion cases (58 per cent) were positive. SH antigen was also detected in 71 of 129 patients (55 per cent) with viral hepatitis who gave no history of parenteral exposure. Serum-hepatitis virus thus appears to be the major cause of sporadic hepatitis in urban adults regardless of the presence or absence of parenteral exposure to blood or blood products.
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