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    Can We Really Wipe Out Hepatitis B?


    The researchers calculated that as a direct effect of vaccination, 2,700 deaths from chronic liver disease might be prevented each year in the United States.

    A study from Taiwan, published Nov. 6 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, offers proof that childhood vaccination programs are working in countries where HBV infection is endemic. Before universal immunization 15 years ago, roughly one in five people in the Asian country were infected. The rate of infection plummeted 93% among children younger than 15, from 9.8% in the year the program was initiated to 0.7% in 1999. In addition, the overall prevalence of infection declined dramatically, and the incidence of liver cancer has been cut in half among Taiwanese children.

    "By the end of 2000, nearly 110 countries had implemented mass vaccination programs for HBV," lead author Yen-Hsuan Ni, MD, PhD, noted. "We anticipate that these efforts will lead to a greater worldwide control of HBV infection in the 21st century."

    In an editorial accompanying the study, the CDC's Miriam Alter noted that universal vaccination of infants, children, and adolescents is critical because targeting high-risk groups has proven to be inadequate. The CDC is expected to reiterate its support for vaccination of everyone 18 and younger in an upcoming health report.

    "Eradication of the disease is the ultimate goal of any vaccination program, and that is certainly the goal with this one," Damon tells WebMD.

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