Did you know that an estimated 7.3 million adult Filipinos have chronic hepatitis B and will suffer from the infectious disease for the rest of their lives? And, according to a 2003 survey, the prevalence of hepatitis B is highest in the 20-49 year age group, which comprises the country's workforce or those entering the workforce. The sad part is it's a disease that can easily be avoided at birth.
Hepatitis B has become a serious public health problem that the Department of Health (DOH) recently launched the Sa Unang 24 Oras Bakunahan si Baby Kontra Hepa B campaign in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), Hepatology Society of the Philippines (HSP), and Yellow Warriors Society Philippines.
The campaign targets mothers to encourage them to vaccinate their babies against hepatitis B within the first 24 hours of the baby's life. In the Philippines and worldwide, most people with chronic hepatitis B acquire the infection at birth, says Hepatology Society of the Philippines president Dr. Ian Cua in a news report.
Hepa B is a virus that infects the liver. Acute hepa B infections do not have symptoms or only cause mild illness that mostly remain unnoticed. Chronic hepa B infections, however, last long-term and can cause extensive liver damage. Babies and young children infected with the virus are more likely to get chronic hepa B, says the DOH. Based on HSP figures, 90 percent of infected infants and approximately 25%–50% of children between the 1 -5 years of age will develop chronic infection or during early childhood.
“Among Filipinos, hepatitis B is the leading cause of liver damage resulting to cirrhosis and cancer,” says Secretary of Health Dr. Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial. She adds that 7.3 million Filipinos are chronically infected with hepa B, and liver cancer is the second deadliest in the list of top cancer deaths.
As mentioned, an infected mother-to-be can pass hepa B to her baby. There are other ways it can be transmitted, according to HSP:
Sex with an infected partner
Sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment with an infected person
Sharing razors, nail clippers/manicure or pedicure paraphernalia or toothbrushes with an infected person
Direct contact with the blood or open wounds of an infected person
Exposure to blood from needlesticks or other sharp instruments
That’s why the easiest and smartest approach to hepa B prevention is through birth dose vaccination, Sec. Rosell-Ubial adds. “If given within 24 hours after birth, the vaccine lessens the risk of babies acquiring the disease in the future and reduces the chance of mothers infecting the baby by 70 to 95 percent as well,” she says.
“I encourage all mothers-to-be and their loved ones to demand from health workers that their newborns be immunized against hepatitis B within 24 hours after birth,” Secretary Rosell-Ubial adds. The vaccine is available for free in DOH retained hospitals and health centers.
After the first shot, succeeding doses of the hepa B vaccine are given once the child is 1 1/2 months old, then again at 2 1/2 months and the final at 3 1/2 months through combination vaccines like the Pentavalent vaccine which protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenzae B and hepatitis B.
For a full list and schedule of recommended vaccinations for infants and children, see the 2016 Childhood Immunization guide prepared by the Philippine Pediatric Society here.