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    Newborn Hepatitis B Vaccinations Fell in 2000

    Brief Halt in Vaccination Program in 1999 Led to Drop, CDC Says

    Why It Matters continued...

    Infants who are not infected at birth but who go home to households with people infected with hepatitis B are also at risk. Although sexual transmission and blood-to-blood contact are the most common means of hepatitis B infection, the virus can also be spread through contact with saliva.

    "We know that roughly 30% of kids who live in households with people who are infected will also become infected within the first five years of life," University of Wisconsin pediatrics professor Thomas Saari, MD, tells WebMD. "This virus is very durable. It can live on a countertop or table for up to a week."

    Saari says vaccinating newborns is especially important because despite recommendations to screen women during pregnancy, as many as 600,000 at-risk women give birth in the U.S. each year without being screened. Saari serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases.

    Pediatrician Lorry Rubin, MD, who also serves on the committee, adds that early vaccination represents the best opportunity to eventually eliminate hepatitis B infection in the U.S. Rubin is chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

    "The strategy of immunizing only the people who are at high risk for hepatitis B did nothing to decrease the rate of infection in this country," he says. "The strategy of vaccinating all newborns has the promise of wiping this virus out."

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