New Childhood Vaccine Available for Parents to Consider

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Hepatitis A Vaccine

There's a new kid on the childhood immunization block this year -- the hepatitis A vaccine. Because it is new, some parents may be left with two key questions: Should I have my child vaccinated against hepatitis A and if so, will my insurance cover the cost?

Hepatitis A is one of five hepatitis viruses, lettered A through E. Hepatitis E and D are very rare. Hepatitis C and B come from blood contact and hepatitis B also can be transmitted sexually. Children already are routinely vaccinated against hepatitis B. The hepatitis A vaccination became part of the recommended childhood immunization schedule with the start of 2006.

First, here's some background on the disease. According to John Messmer, associate of professor of family and community medicine at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, people who contract hepatitis A usually recover from it, but recovery can take months and may require hospitalization. About 1 percent of cases develop severe or "fulminant" hepatitis with a fatality rate of up to 50 percent.

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Hepatitis A is contracted from contaminated food or water or by contact with an infected person and is found only in humans. Although it is associated with poor sanitation, in the United States about 11,000 cases were reported in 2001 out of a probable total of about 45,000 occurrences. About one-third of the U.S. population has had hepatitis A.

The good news is that hepatitis A is preventable. Beginning in 1995, hepatitis A vaccine was administered to high-risk populations and children older than age 2 in states with the highest incidence of hepatitis A. It worked so well that it now is recommended for all children starting at age 1 since children under age 1 have some protection from maternal antibodies.

The vaccine is quite safe. Two doses are given six months apart, but more than 97 percent immunity is present after one dose. It also is highly recommended for people traveling to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East and for those living in endemic areas, people who work in day-care centers or group homes, food handlers and people who engage in unsafe sexual practices.

Insurance companies likely will pay for the vaccine for children. Hepatitis A vaccine is part of the approved immunization schedule for children of employees participating in the Penn State Hershey Medical Center health-care benefits plan - check the prevention schedule for age and frequency guidelines.

For others who may not be covered, cost for the two-dose series is about $175 based on retail cost to physicians. Its estimated that each case of hepatitis A costs about $2,000 for medical care and results in about a month of lost work or school. Add to that a mortality rate between 0.2 percent and 2 percent and the vaccine looks like a worthwhile investment.

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