- NEW YORK - Hepatitis
infects up to 320,000 Americans annually. Hepatitis B is so infectious
that someone can get it from a recently used toothbrush if the bristles
contain blood from the infected person's gums. (and WET KISSING - ed)
- It's also easy to get from sex, tattoo and body piercing
tools, a bite from an infected person and contaminated needles, according
to the Hepatitis Foundation International.
- "Like HIV, hepatitis B is spread primarily through
blood and body fluids, but it's 100 times more communicable," said
Dr. Martin Levy, chief epidemiologist for Preventative Health Services
at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The Hepatitis Foundation International on Monday hosted
a National Hepatitis Congress and Walk on Washington to raise awareness
in Congress about hepatitis and the importance of vaccination for hepatitis
A and B. The walk was followed by a press conference and a meeting among
hepatitis advocates and congressional representatives.
- "We're trying to bring hepatitis B under control
through prevention, education, and vaccination, and trying to increase
the amount of resources to find effective treatments for hepatitis,"
said Thelma Thiel, CEO of the Hepatitis Foundation International.
- There is a highly effective vaccine to protect against
this viral disease, which infects up to 320,000 Americans every year. Hepatitis
can cause serious liver damage and leads to 6,000 U.S. deaths from cirrhosis
and liver cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- There is also a vaccine for hepatitis A, which can be
transmitted through food and feces and leads to a short-term liver infection.
- No vaccine currently exists for hepatitis C, the most
serious and least communicable of these diseases.
- Yet a large proportion of the adult population is still
not vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, and many have not taken one of the
many tests available to detect all three forms of the disease, the HFI
- Hepatitis C: A Chronic Condition
- The Washington event also served as an opportunity for
people who are already infected with hepatitis C to learn more about their
disease, and to become vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, which can
be life-threatening in this group, according to Thiel.
- Currently, 2.7 million Americans are chronically infected
with hepatitis C, and there are 1.2 million carriers of hepatitis B, according
to the CDC. Being a carrier means you can transmit the disease to someone
else, even if you show no signs of infection.
- While hepatitis A does not lead to chronic infection,
and only 6 to 10 percent of people who catch hepatitis B become chronically
infected, hepatitis C becomes a chronic condition in 80 percent of people
who are infected, and often leads to liver disease, CDC statistics indicate.
- "We need a vaccine for hepatitis C, " said
Levy. "It's the main cause of liver transplants."
- Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis C is not as easily spread
through sex. But it is spread through blood, and people who had a blood
transfusion before 1992 or a transfusion of blood products before 1987
are at risk for getting it and should be tested, according to the CDC.
Donated blood was not screened effectively for this virus until these dates.
- Major Vaccine Campaign
- At the end of 1991, the federal government launched a
major hepatitis B vaccination campaign, and since 1992 has required all
infants to be immunized against the disease. Now, the CDC recommends that
all children under 18 be immunized.
- Any child who is eligible for Medicaid can get a free
vaccination under the government's Vaccines for Children campaign, according
Dr. Hal Jenson, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University
of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
- Many state health departments also vaccinate children
in schools, Levy said. "Ideally, we would want to immunize all of
the kids through college age, because as they get older, they are more
likely to engage in behaviors that put them at risk for hepatitis B,"
he said. But not all state health departments have the funds to conduct
universal vaccination programs.
- Vaccine Concerns
- Part of the problem is the vaccine itself, which is expensive
and must be given in three doses.
- A new two-dose regimen has just become available for
adolescents, according to Jenson, but "my preference," he said,
"is still the three-dose regimen."
- Some parents have feared getting their infants and children
vaccinated, because a French report released in 1994 found an association
with the hepatitis B vaccine and multiple sclerosis.
- But that report has not been confirmed by any scientific
studies, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
- "A study by the French National Drug Surveillance
Committee among recipients of over 60 million doses of hepatitis B vaccine
delivered between 1989 and 1997 found that the frequency of neurological
disease, including MS, that might be linked to the vaccination was in fact
LOWER than the frequency of MS in the general population," the MS
society stated in a 1998 press release.
- The hepatitis B vaccine can cause a very rare allergic
reaction, and at least six research projects are currently under way to
examine any possible link between the hepatitis B vaccine and MS, according
to the CDC.
- "There are always possible dangers" with a
vaccine, Jenson admitted. "But the risk of getting the disease and
the complications of the disease are much greater than any of the rare
complications seen with vaccination."
- SIGHTINGS HOMEPAGE
Site Served by TheHostPros