· Hepatitis B is a viral infection that attacks the liver, causing both acute and chronic disease.
· The virus is transmitted through contact with the blood or other body fluids of an infected person - not through casual contact.
· About 25% of adults who become chronically infected during childhood later die from liver cancer or cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) caused by the chronic infection.
· Hepatitis B virus is an important occupational hazard for health workers.
· Hepatitis B is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine.
· In China, an estimated 93 million people have been infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV).
· There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis B. Care is aimed at maintaining comfort and adequate nutritional balance, including replacement of fluids that are lost from vomiting and diarrhea.
· Chronic hepatitis B can be treated with drugs, including interferon and anti-viral agents, which can help some patients. Treatment can cost dozens of thousands of RMB per year and is not affordable to everyone.
· Patients with cirrhosis are sometimes given liver transplants, with varying success.
· Liver cancer is almost always fatal, and often develops in people at an age when they are most productive and have family responsibilities.
· All infants should receive the hepatitis B vaccine: this is the mainstay of hepatitis B prevention.
· The vaccine is given in three separate doses, as part of existing routine immunization schedules. In China, the first dose of vaccine should be given as soon as possible after birth (i.e. within 24 hours).
· The complete vaccine series induces protective antibody levels in more than 95% of infants, children and young adults. Protection lasts at least 20 years and should be lifelong.
· All children and adolescents younger than 18 years old and not previously vaccinated should receive the vaccine. In China, from 2009 to 2011, the Government will provide the vaccine free of charge for all children under 15 years of age who have not yet been vaccinated.
· The vaccine has an outstanding record of safety and effectiveness. Since 1982, over one billion doses of hepatitis B vaccine have been used worldwide. In China, vaccination has reduced the rate of chronic infection to less than 1% among immunized children under 5 years age.