DuPage Readies Hepatitis B Vaccines Officials Urge Parents to Start Children on 5-Month Process

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Byline: Christie Hart Daily Herald Staff Writer

It's only the end of the first semester, but suburban health officials already want parents to think about their children's immunizations to accommodate a newly required series of vaccinations against hepatitis B.

Children starting fifth grade in the fall and children at least 2 years old entering public pre-kindergarten classes must be vaccinated against the liver disease before the next school year, under a state law taking effect July 1.

The hepatitis B vaccination is a series of three shots that must be spread out over at least 5 months, said Susanna Roberts, the school health program coordinator at the DuPage County Health Department.

"We need to get them started or there won't be time to get it done before school," Roberts said.

The hepatitis B vaccination was added to a course of inoculations and a physical required before children can enter fifth grade in Illinois. Without the immunizations, pupils can be held out of class.

Hepatitis B, carried in blood and bodily fluids, infects the liver and causes jaundice, malaise and flu-like symptoms. The virus can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

Although hepatitis B often is considered a sexually transmitted disease, health-care workers believe it's important to immunize younger children as well.

Lawmakers "chose fifth grade because the next mandated physical is at ninth grade and by then they've missed the middle school," said Nancy Petrik, a school nurse in West Chicago and president of the Fox Valley division of the Illinois Association of School Nurses.

"The target population is teens because of the poor decisions they make sometimes," Petrik said. …