Specter of hepatitis B rears its head again
Pregnant mainland mothers and sexually active locals are driving a hepatitis B epidemic in the territory, according to the Hong Kong Family Planning Association.
This is despite an immunization program that has freed children in the SAR from the virus, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and death.
Hong Kong launched its childhood immunization program for hepatitis B in 1988.
According to the association, about 25 percent of those with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or cirrhosis by the age of 40-50.
The association screens at least 10,000 people annually for hepatitis B in its premarital and pre- pregnancy service programs. The proportion found to be hepatitis B carriers initially declined from 9.6 percent in 1990 to 5.1 percent in 2001, said association executive director Susan Fan Yun-sun.
But carrier rates rose to 6.9 percent in 2002 and have remained in the 6-7 percent range. Last year the rate was 6.5 percent, she said.
"These are all premarital and pre-pregnancy people who are in their late 20s and early 30s and have not benefited from the 1988 vaccination program," Fan said.
Nancy Leung Wai-yee, honorary medical consultant of the Hong Kong Family Planning Association's Hepatitis B Assessment Clinic, said the influx of mainland mothers also had an impact on the trend of the disease.
The virus can be transmitted at birth, through blood and intercourse.
"The hepatitis B vaccination program for newborn infants in the mainland leaves a lot to be desired. As a result the World Health Organization has repeatedly revised and set new targets for them," Leung said.
A project undertaken by AsiaHep Hong Kong, in collaboration with Tuen Mun Hospital, found that the prevalence of hepatitis B in children born in the mainland is 2-3 percent. Leung said from 2003 to 2009, no local child up to the age of 14 was found to carry the virus, and from 2007-09 no more than nine in the 15-24 age group were infected each year.
But in sexually active groups between the ages of 25-34 and 35-44, the number of cases has remained in the double digits, ranging from 13 to 49 each year from 1995 to 2009.
"Hepatitis B is still a sexual and reproductive health issue. The pre-pregnancy and premarital age groups still seem to be an area of concern," Fan said. http://bit.ly/ofkFk8