No Real Progress Despite Vaccine, CDC Says
ATLANTA (AP) _ The 5-year-old vaccine against the most common form of hepatitis has yet to make significant headway in wiping out the disease, federal health officials said Thursday.
The national Centers for Disease Control said the rate of reported hepatitis B cases last year was 115 out of every million Americans, compared to 92 per million in 1981, the year before the vaccine was licensed.
Health officials estimate that hepatitis B strikes more than 300,000 people each year in the United States, although the number of cases reported averages 26,600.
Hepatitis, a liver disease, can cause fever, rash, pains and a yellow, or jaundiced, color in the skin and eyes. Hepatitis B is transmitted most often through blood.
Most hepatitis B vaccine programs have concentrated on health care workers who handle blood, staff members and patients at kidney dialysis centers, and staff members and patients at centers for the developmentally disabled, the CDC said. Those groups have received an estimated 85 percent of the 4.4 million hepatitis B vaccine doses given since June 1982.
However, the CDC said, most hepatitis B cases occur in three groups harder to reach: homosexual men, injectible drug abusers and people who acquired the disease through heterosexual activity. The first two groups have also been those most at risk for AIDS.
″There has been little progress in developing vaccination programs″ for those risk groups, the Atlanta-based CDC said. ″None of these groups is being reached effectively by current (hepatitis B) vaccine programs.″
The CDC encouraged new hepatitis B vaccine strategies two years ago, but ″the situation has stayed about the same″ since then, said Dr. Steve Hadler, a CDC hepatitis specialist.
″Everyone accepts the difficulty″ of vaccinating drug addicts, said Hadler. He said gay men may be more concerned with preventing AIDS and health officials have been ″just slow″ in trying to vaccinate sexually active heterosexuals.
Another stumbling block to hepatitis B vaccination remains the high cost - more than $100 for a three-shot series, Hadler said.
A new genetically engineered hepatitis B vaccine came on the market last July. The older vaccine is derived from plasma.
Concerns that the old vaccine might be contaminated with infectious agents such as the virus that causes AIDS have proven to be unfounded, and the new vaccine offers equal effectiveness and safety, the CDC said.
Hepatitis B is one of several variations of the potentially serious disease, which is fatal in about 1 percent of cases. Hepatitis A, a common contagious disease, particularly in children, was the most common form of hepatitis prior to 1983, but it now strikes a somewhat smaller number than hepatitis B.
Hepatitis B is frequently more severe than hepatitis A, for which no vaccine has been introduced.