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DHS news release

Jan. 30, 2006

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (971) 673-1282
Technical contact: Juventila Liko (971) 673-0295

Public health officials recommend hepatitis B vaccine for all newborns

Public health officials in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) are calling for hospitals and other health care providers to adopt a national recommendation to vaccinate all newborns against hepatitis B.

Hepatitis B is a form of liver infection caused by a virus that is spread by direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of an infected person.

"There is no cure for hepatitis B, which is why prevention is critical," Susan Allan, M.D., state public health director in DHS, said Monday. "Universal vaccination at birth is the most effective way to prevent infection and future consequences of the disease."

The recommendation was published Dec. 23 by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a panel of 15 national experts who advise the federal government on effective vaccine-preventable disease strategies.

The advisory panel also recommends hepatitis B screening for all pregnant women, 94 percent of whom in Oregon receive hepatitis screening prior to delivery. If they test positive for the virus, their infant is vaccinated immediately.

"However, because Oregon does not have 100 percent screening, some infants may slip through the cracks," Allan said. "Administering hepatitis B vaccine at birth provides a safety net that protects all infants."


The stakes are high: 90 percent of infected newborns will become chronic carriers of hepatitis B and about 25 percent will eventually suffer cirrhosis or liver cancer. The majority of chronic carriers have no symptoms until the onset of these deadly illnesses, but they can unknowingly put others at risk, according to Allan.

Allan said the best way for hospitals to ensure universal vaccination against hepatitis B at birth is to have a written policy or standing orders in place to offer and administer hepatitis B vaccine to all newborns before discharge. Currently, 56 percent of Oregon birth hospitals have these protocols in place.

If hospitals can't afford the cost of giving the vaccine, they can sign up for the federal Vaccines for Children program. Allan said about 62 percent of Oregon newborns are eligible for the federally funded program, which DHS administers.

"Universal vaccination for hepatitis B is one opportunity to ensure newborns have a healthy life," Allan said. "It's also an important step toward eradicating this deadly disease."

Currently, an estimated one to 1.25 million people nationwide are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus and an additional 5,000 to 8,000 people become chronically infected each year. In 2005, 492 Oregonians were identified as living with acute and chronic hepatitis B.

Oregon has recommended hepatitis B vaccine as a routine infant vaccination since 1991 and as a routine adolescent vaccination since 1995.

Complete information about the new hepatitis B recommendation can be found in the CD Summary, a bi-monthly newsletter that DHS sends to all Oregon health care providers, available on the Web at http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/cdsummary/2006/ohd5502.pdf (PDF).