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Hepatitis Health Center

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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

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Taiwanese researchers report a 90 percent reduction in deaths from complications of hepatitis B since the country began its infant vaccination program in 1984.

Vaccinations have also decreased the spread of hepatitis B, which can cause liver damage, liver cancer and a deadly reaction in babies called infant fulminant hepatitis, the researchers said.

"Immunization has provided 30-year protection against acute hepatitis and end-stage chronic liver diseases, including cirrhosis and liver cancer," said lead researcher Chien-Jen Chen, a vice president at the Genomics Research Center at Academia Sinica in Taipei.

The implications of the findings are global.

Chen said there are 350 million chronic carriers of hepatitis B in the world, with the highest prevalence in the Asia-Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa. The infection can be spread from mothers to newborns.

"All newborns in high-prevalence areas should be vaccinated to reduce the liver disease burden and health care costs," he said.

The report was published in the Sept. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, 12 million Americans have been infected with the disease -- one out of every 20 people. In addition, more than 1 million people are chronically infected and up to 100,000 new infections occur each year.

The foundation estimates that 5,000 people in the United States die each year from hepatitis B and its complications.

The new findings add even more support for the need for vaccination, a U.S. expert said.

"This is an exclamation point of what we already knew -- that infants should be vaccinated against hepatitis B," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Vaccination of infants with hepatitis B vaccine, which is highly effective, leads to a dramatic decrease in chronic infection and liver cancer, which are outcomes for up to 50 percent of those with hepatitis B."

In addition, vaccination builds herd immunity as fewer people are infected, thus reducing the spread of the disease in the population, Siegel said. "Everybody should be vaccinated against this virus -- everybody," he said. "Infants and all adults should be vaccinated."

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