Schoolchildren face new vaccinations

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

Parents be warned: Next year the state will require more vaccinations for children entering day care or school.

The biggest change will be moving vaccinations against hepatitis A and B from the recommended list to the required list. Immunization against the two serious liver diseases involves a series of shots spread over six months, and public health officials warn that families should plan ahead to avoid a summer rush.

In May, the state proposed revising and expanding immunization requirements. The changes would become effective July 1, 2001.

"The main reason is because hepatitis A and B are on the increase in Alaska," said Traci Davis, health services coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver that causes fever, yellow skin and eyes, loss of appetite and nausea. It is spread from person to person. You can also catch it by eating food (including shellfish from polluted water) or drinking water that has been contaminated with sewage.

Hepatitis A infection is a major health problem in Alaska, especially in rural areas and Native populations. The state continues to have major hepatitis A outbreaks every five to seven years. In 1993, four people in Alaska died from hepatitis A infection, according to the Epidemiology Section of the state Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1996, the state began an immunization campaign to curb the disease. Studies in Alaska show that the state is now due for another cyclic outbreak. Most people infected are younger than 15, and about 70 to 80 percent of susceptible youngsters must be immunized, beginning at age 2, to prevent future epidemics.

Hepatitis B is another serious liver infection. It can pass from an infected mother to her newborn during childbirth and from one person to another through blood, body fluids or by sexual contact. A lifelong infection with this virus can cause liver cancer and death. Nationwide, hepatitis B costs for medical care and work loss exceed $500 million annually, according to the state epidemiology Web site.

The earlier in life children are infected, the more likely they are to develop the chronic form, making them contagious and at risk for fatal liver failure for the rest of their lives. For that reason, physicians recommend that children receive their first hepatitis B vaccination at birth.

An August epidemiology bulletin lists nine cases of hepatitis A and six of hepatitis B reported in Alaska during the first half of 2000.

According to the proposed new rules from the Section of Epidemiology, all children entering child care facilities or grades kindergarten through grade 12 next fall will need proof of vaccination. The proposal is awaiting final approval, but health care workers anticipate that it will become official soon, Davis said.

The district plans to send out notices in the coming months to parents and guardians of students who do not have records of hepatitis immunizations on file.

"Our goal is to do this in a timely fashion," Davis said.

She recommends that parents start the shot series as soon as possible.

"There probably will be a rush in the fall," she warned.

The hepatitis series involves a first visit for both shots, a second visit one month later for the second hepatitis B shot and a final visit six months after the start for the final vaccination of both types.

The other changes in the wings involve requirements for youngsters going into licensed day care. They will be required to have vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, chicken pox (varicella), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and mumps, which most children have already been vaccinated against via the combination shot for measles, mumps and rubella, commonly called the MMR.

The immunizations are available free for anyone younger than 18 through the Public Health Nurse. Central peninsula shot clinics are held weekly in Kenai in the basement of Kenai City Hall from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and in Soldotna at the Elks Club from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Thursdays.

For more information or an appointment at a different time, call the Kenai Health Center at 283-4871.

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