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Immunization

Hepatitis B

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Annual cases of acute hep B infection: 5.2 million

Annual number of deaths: 520,000

The Disease:

Hepatitis B (HB) is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is highly infectious and spreads through contact with an infected person’s blood or body fluids. Over two billion people have been infected with HBV at some point in their lives and an estimated 350 million are lifelong carriers. Infection can occur as early as birth, when mothers pass on the disease to their babies. Other primary means of HB infection include: child-to-child transmission (from children being in contact with one another in household settings), contaminated blood transfusions, unsterile needles and sexual activity.

Symptoms:

Few of those infected as infants or children develop acute viral hepatitis in childhood, but instead they may suffer chronic liver disease as adults and are at risk of developing liver cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. Those that do suffer from acute HB, may experience symptoms such as a fever or severe fatigue. Some may have gastrointestinal problems – nausea and vomiting – and may have abdominal pain.  Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) and dark urine may also occur.

Immunization:

The HB vaccine, made from an inactivated virus, has been used for two decades and has proven to be effective in preventing infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all children receive the hepatitis B vaccine. Three doses of the vaccine are recommended. The cost has been reduced in recent years with increased demand and production capacity.

Goal:

Assisting the poorest countries obtain HB vaccine is one of the priorities of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization  (GAVI) and The Vaccine Fund. (http://www.vaccinealliance.org/)

GAVI milestone on HepB:

By 2002, 80% of all countries with adequate delivery systems will have introduced hepatitis B vaccine.  By 2007, all countries will have introduced hepatitis B vaccine.

[Sources: WHO]