Vaccinating kids against hepatitis A can prevent outbreaks, a study says

The Associated Press
Wednesday December 19, 2001

CHICAGO — Hepatitis A outbreaks in all age groups could be prevented if children were routinely vaccinated against the liver ailment, a study in Northern California suggests. 

When 66 percent of eligible children in Butte County received free hepatitis A vaccinations over six years, cases in the county dropped nearly 94 percent. The number of reported cases fell from 57 in 1995 to 4 in 2000, the lowest number in more than 30 years, the study found. 

The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was published in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Hepatitis A is an inflammation of the liver that can cause flu-like symptoms and jaundice. Children are less severely affected than adults and may even have no symptoms. The virus can be spread by human feces or contaminated water or food. The disease usually clears up in about two months. 

Federal estimates suggest there were 270,000 cases nationwide in 1997, and Western states are disproportionately affected. 

The CDC recommends routine vaccination of children in Western states with high rates of the virus: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah and Washington. 

Only Oklahoma and Alaska require the vaccine for children 2 and older, said Dr. Philip Rosenthal, president of the Northern California chapter of the American Liver Foundation. Nevada will begin requiring the shots in January, but efforts to make them mandatory in California have so far failed, he said. 

The vaccine became available in 1995 for American children ages 2 and up. 

During the study, 29,789 children ages 2 through 12 in Butte County received at least one dose; 17,681 received the recommended second dose. No serious side effects were reported. The incidence last year of 1.9 cases per 100,000 population was the lowest of any county in the state.