All Babies Could Get Hepatitis B Jab as Cases Soar

Article excerpt

Byline: Sophie Borland Health Reporter

ALL children could be vaccinated against hepatitis B in a bid to curb soaring rates of infection.

The numbers affected by the deadly illness have almost doubled in the past decade.

The massive increase is believed to be fuelled by rising levels of unprotected sex and immigration from countries where the virus is prevalent.

Ministers are considering offering the jab to all children at the same time as vaccines for other illnesses such as polio, whooping cough and tetanus.

Around 325,000 Britons are thought to be infected with hepatitis B, a virus which can cause liver cancer, liver disease and death. The total is almost twice the 2002 number of 180,000.

Experts say the rise is partly due to high numbers of people coming into Britain from areas in the world where hepatitis B is rampant, such as Africa, South-East Asia, Russia and parts of Europe including Albania. More than half of those infected are believed to be immigrants.

The virus is spread through blood and other bodily fluids, including from mother to baby.

According to the NHS, it is 100 times more infectious than HIV.

Currently only 'at risk' groups are offered the vaccine, such as prostitutes, gay men, women with multiple partners and prisoners.

But the World Health Organisation, British Medical Association and several leading doctors say a jab should be rolled out 'without delay'. They point out that Britain lags years behind most other Western countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Portugal and Greece by refusing to vaccinate all babies.

Last month the Department of Health's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation discussed whether the vaccine should be offered to all children.

It could be added to the five-in-one jab - currently given to babies at two to four months to protect against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and Hib - haemophilus influenza B - as a single injection. It could also be given to babies as a separate jab at some point before their first birthday. …