Health roundup If children were vaccinated against hepatitis A, it would not only protect them, but the adults they come into contact with, says the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which helps set federal vaccination guidelines.
In October, the committee recommended all kids receive a two-dose hepatitis A vaccination—one dose between 12 and 35 months and the second in preschool. But don’t worry about it yet because the recommendation is still under review by the government.
Still, parents should know about hepatitis A. It is not a disease that comes to mind when parents think of childhood diseases. Yet, even though it can be prevented, children make up 25 percent of all hepatitis A cases and they often pass the disease to adults.
Experts say vaccinating all children in the United States could prevent 100,000 cases of the disease.
Hepatitis A attacks the liver and can cause fever, diarrhea and jaundice. And while it is extremely infectious, it is generally not fatal. But hepatitis is a hearty virus and can be transmitted by contact with contaminated food or water, or through close contact with a person who is infected—even if the person does not appear to be sick.
The call for children to be immunized against hepatitis A is not new. Since 1999, the federal government has recommended hepatitis A vaccination for children in 17 states outside of the Midwest, where the disease has been the most common.
"It has always been part of the strategy to eventually recommend universal vaccination for hepatitis A nationwide," says Lola Russell, a spokesperson for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hepatitis A vaccines were licensed in 1995 and recently approved to be used in children as young as age 1.
Adult pertussis shot could save kids
Also in October, the immunization committee recommended a new vaccination against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, which would replace the current adult tetanus-diphtheria booster vaccine given to those ages 19 to 64.
The shot is for adults, but the protection is for infants who have yet to be immunized against pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
"Infants less than 12 months of age have a high risk of pertussis-related complications, hospitalizations and death. Vaccinating adult contacts may reduce the risk of transmitting pertussis to infants," said Dr. Steve Cochi, acting director of CDC’s National Immunization Program in a statement released to the press.
This all has to do with an historic outbreak of whooping cough, particularly among teenagers and adults. And officials fear it could get worse because some adults may not show symptoms but may be contagious.
According to the CDC, there were nearly 26,000 cases reported in 2004, the highest number in four decades. The effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine wanes five to 10 years after the childhood shot is given.
For adults, whooping cough can mean weeks of coughing, or even pneumonia, but for infants the condition can be far more serious.
Officials from the agency say that each year between 20 and 40 infants die from whooping cough infection. In a 2004 study, researchers found that—in the cases where they could trace the disease—more than half the infants with pertussis got the disease from a family member.
The recommendations encourage adults to get a booster dose of the new vaccine if they have not received a tetanus and diphtheria booster in 10 years or more, or if they have close contact with baby under age 1. This also supports moves made by the government last June to require all kids between ages 11 and 12 to get a new pertussis-tetanus-diphtheria booster immunization.
Heather Cunningham is an award-winning writer who lives in Batavia and writes frequently on health and parenting issues.