Hepatitis B vaccine to be mandatory for babies in UK
LONDON: All UK babies are to be vaccinated against a deadly cancer-causing virus, which experts fear is becoming increasingly common due to immigration.
They will be inoculated against hepatitis B, which can trigger liver cancer, in a new jab that will also protect against five other diseases.
Every baby born from August 1 will receive doses of the “Hexa” jab at 4, 8 and 16 weeks.
Historically, infection rates of the blood-borne virus have been so low in Britain that it has not been a major issue.
But there is now serious concern that the number of cases is rising, due largely to immigration from developing countries.
In some sub-Saharan African countries, one in seven is a carrier. East Asia and parts of Eastern Europe are also hotspots.
Public Health England (PHE) said the decision to inoculate all babies, rather than just those deemed at high risk, was taken because a “cost-effective combination vaccine” was now available.
The jab also protects against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).
Evidence suggests high rates of immigration are behind rising cases of chronic infection, where the virus lies largely dormant – but incurable – in the body.
In 2012, PHE reported that 19 out of every 20 antenatal women testing positive for hepatitis B in London were born abroad. Of those, nearly half were born in Africa.
“Longterm infections in migrants are estimated to account for around 96% of all new longterm hepatitis B infections in the UK,” PHE concluded.
More than 500 000 people moved to Britain last year, half of whom came from outside the EU. A quarter of mothers giving birth on the NHS are now foreign-born.
Fresh data from PHE indicates that the number of pregnant women infected with the virus is increasing fast. A previous version of its “green book” for doctors, from 2013, stated that about one in 700 was hepatitis B-positive.
But a new version, published three days ago, shows the national figure is now one in 250. Rates are higher than one in 100 in some inner-city areas. Paul Desmond, of the Hepatitis B Positive Trust, claimed political correctness had allowed an “unseen epidemic” to develop. “We’ve invited the world – and forgotten its medicine,” he said.
Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver, potentially leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Transmission is via blood or other bodily fluids. That means it can be spread by sex or infected needles – but also by something as innocuous as sharing a toothbrush.
It is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV.
Hepatitis B can survive outside the body for at least a week, so objects contaminated with dried blood pose a risk. Worldwide, 250 million people are infected with hepatitis B, and it kills 900 000 a year. Worst affected countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific.
Treatment costs for those with long-term infection can exceed £10 000 (about R170 000) a year. – Mail On Sunday
Rising infections with immigration from developing countries