Anniversary of one of the largest hepatitis A outbreaks in the US brings experts together


Former Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, speaks out to protect children and communities from hepatitis A

Alexandria, VA December 13, 2004 As a result of hepatitis A outbreaks across the country, former United States Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, and the National Partnership for Immunization are joining forces to educate the public about the disease and prevention through vaccination. This initiative comes on the one-year anniversary of one of the largest hepatitis A outbreaks in U.S. history, which caused devastating health effects and severely affected families and communities near Pittsburgh, Pa. Hepatitis A is a serious and potentially deadly liver disease that may infect nearly 100,000 Americans each year. The disease, which can be prevented through vaccination, is spread via the fecal-oral route through close personal contact or the ingestion of water or food contaminated with the hepatitis A virus. Children often serve as a reservoir for hepatitis A, and unknowingly pass it on to adults.

"Many of these outbreaks, including the one in Pennsylvania, occurred in areas east of the Mississippi that do not typically have high rates of hepatitis A," said Elders. "If you take a closer look at the 17 states where routine hepatitis A vaccination should be implemented or considered, you'll see what an impact the vaccination has had on lowering the number of cases of the disease. It's time for health officials to consider hepatitis A vaccination for all children at potential risk in order to protect them, their families and their communities."

Despite the availability of effective vaccines, hepatitis A remains one of the most commonly reported vaccine-preventable diseases in the country. Current immunization policies are limited to children in states with high incidence rates. However, these states account for only half of all reported cases of hepatitis A in the country, leaving many at risk for contracting the disease.

Devastating Outbreaks that Could be Prevented

One year ago, the hepatitis A outbreak near Pittsburgh affected approximately 600 people, who contracted the disease from contaminated food at a local restaurant. Not only was this one of the largest outbreaks of hepatitis A in U.S. history, but it also resulted in the deaths of three people.

"Hepatitis A is a serious and continuing public health threat," said David Neumann, PhD, Executive Director of the National Partnership for Immunization. "Recent outbreaks have had an enormous impact on communities, causing illness and even death. Unfortunately, many of these cases could have been prevented through vaccination."

Hepatitis A can affect anyone, as evidenced by the recent outbreaks in areas across the country. According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, routine vaccination of children is the most effective way to reduce hepatitis A incidence nationwide over time. Research shows that national childhood vaccination of hepatitis A would reduce the number of primary cases by 54 percent and would be a cost-effective strategy. Hepatitis A is a potentially fatal liver disease which significantly impacts the U.S. economy, costing nearly $500 million annually.

Expanding childhood vaccination requirements could be an effective strategy to help save lives, reduce the burden of hepatitis A disease and reduce this negative impact on the economy. For more information on hepatitis A and prevention through vaccination, log on to Support for this educational effort is being provided by GlaxoSmithKline, a company that joins NPI in its commitment to help reduce the incidence of hepatitis A in the U.S.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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