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Health Department Offers Low-Cost Hepatitis B Vaccine to High-Risk Adults

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hepatitis B rates have decreased more than 80 percent in the last 20 years, mostly due to vaccination against the contagious liver disease. Northern Kentucky residents who are considered high-risk for contracting hepatitis B are now eligible for low-cost vaccine at the Northern Kentucky Health Department. The vaccine consists of three doses given over a six-month period. Cost is on a sliding-fee scale based on the patient’s income and family size, with no one turned away for inability to pay. The vaccine is available by appointment at the Health Department’s four county health centers through a grant from the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Adults age 19 and older in high-risk groups are targeted for vaccination and include: men and women who are sexually active with multiple partners; men who have sex with men; individuals diagnosed with type I or type II diabetes, hepatitis C, HIV or a sexually transmitted disease; individuals seeking treatment for substance abuse; and household or sexual contacts of a person infected with hepatitis B. Those interested in vaccination can be screened further by health center staff when scheduling an appointment.

Most children are routinely immunized against hepatitis B, with the first dose given at birth. Adults who have Medicaid or do not meet the criteria for the low-cost vaccine program should contact their health care provider about vaccination.

Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen or other bodily fluids of an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person through sexual contact, birth (mother to child), sharing of needles or other infected devices, sharing of items such as razors or toothbrushes and direct contact with an open wound or sore.

The severity and duration of hepatitis B vary from person-to-person. Individuals diagnosed with the disease will be told if they have an acute strain of the virus or chronic illness. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, clay-colored bowel movements, joint pain and jaundice. Individuals with chronic hepatitis B can go 20 to 30 years without ever showing symptoms. About 15 to 20 percent of people infected with chronic hepatitis B develop serious health problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. 

The Health Department tracks acute cases of hepatitis B, with an average of 23 cases reported each year. In 2012, 26 cases were reported in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton Counties. In Kentucky, there were 136 cases of hepatitis B in 2010, the most recent data available. When adjusted for population, Kentucky’s 2010 hepatitis B rate was one of the three highest in the nation, behind West Virginia and tied with Oklahoma.

For more information on hepatitis B, please visit http://www.nkyhealth.org/hepbfact.

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Media representatives should contact Emily Gresham Wherle at 859.344.5470 or Emily.Gresham-Wherle@nkyhealth.org, about any request or information before calling any other Health Department employee. Your calls and requests will be handled expediently with your deadlines in mind. Thank you for your interest and support in educating the community about public health issues.

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For statewide news releases, please visit the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.