The End of Hepatitis B Transmission Begins at Birth
Posted Aug 26 2013 9:00am
By Deborah Wexler, MD, Founder and Executive Director, Immunization Action Coalition
Editor’s note: August is National Immunization Awareness Month.
Dr. Deborah Wexler
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ), the rate of acute hepatitis B virus infection in the U.S. has declined by more than 80 percent since 1990, when routine hepatitis B vaccination of babies was implemented. While this is certainly good news, there are still about a million people in the U.S. today who suffer from chronic hepatitis B virus infection.
It is also important to know that the likelihood of acute hepatitis B infection becoming chronic is higher the younger a person is when infected. Approximately 90 percent of infants who are infected will develop chronic infection; worldwide, most people with chronic hepatitis B were infected at birth or during early childhood .
This is just another reason why preventing hepatitis B virus transmission at birth is so critical, and why the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) launched a major campaign in July— Give Birth to the End of Hep B —that urges the nation’s birthing institutions to adopt or strengthen their hepatitis B vaccine birth dose policies. A policy that ensures all newborns receive a dose of hepatitis B vaccine after birth provides a “safety net” to protect all newborns against potentially tragic outcomes and save lives.
Yet despite expert consensus on the importance of a hepatitis B vaccine birth dose, nearly one in three U.S. newborns leaves the hospital unprotected. As a result, approximately 800 U.S. newborns become chronically infected each year because of perinatal exposure.
The centerpiece of the campaign is a free, comprehensive guidebook that contains a wide range of resources to help birthing institutions establish, implement, and optimize their hepatitis B birth dose policies. This IAC publication, “ Hepatitis B: What Hospitals Need to Do to Protect Newborns ,” is endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The guidebook explains that universal hepatitis B vaccination is needed at birth because it: