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Hep B Vaccination May Cut Deaths From Liver Disease

Taiwan study highlights need for vaccination for all, U.S. expert says

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The hepatitis B vaccine is safe, Siegel said. "The disease is scary-- the vaccine is not," he said.

For the study, Chen's team looked at the 30-year outcomes of the immunization program in Taiwan. For the first two years, the immunization program covered only newborns of mothers who carried the disease. Then it expanded to all newborns.

In July 1987, vaccinations were extended to cover preschoolers. Between 1988 and 1999, the program was extended to cover all elementary school children.

The rate of vaccinations for those born from 1984 to 2010 was about 89 percent to 97 percent, the researchers found.

For those born between 1977 and 2004, a more than 90 percent reduction occurred in deaths from chronic liver disease and liver cancer, and there were 80 percent fewer cases of liver cancer overall.

Deaths from infant fulminant hepatitis B also decreased 90 percent.

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen or other body fluids infected with the virus enters the body of an uninfected person, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The infection can be transmitted from an infected mother to her newborn. The hepatitis B virus also can be transmitted during sex with an infected person or by sharing needles, syringes or other drug-injection equipment.

Sharing razors or toothbrushes with an infected person also can transmit the disease, as can direct contact with blood or open sores of an infected person, according to the CDC.

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