American Liver Foundation Commends the CDC for Recommendations Addressing Viral Hepatitis in the Nation's Prisons

NEW YORK -- The American Liver Foundation (ALF) applauds the new recommendations issued today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of viral hepatitis in the nation's corrections facilities. The recommendations, published in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, call for prison vaccination against hepatitis B regardless of the length of stay and vaccination against hepatitis A for at-risk inmates. With prison hepatitis B rates four times the national average, vaccinating the nearly 2 million inmates in this country before they are released is a vital public health initiative.

"These new recommendations show that the issue of viral hepatitis in the corrections setting cannot be ignored," said Alan P. Brownstein, president and chief executive officer of the American Liver Foundation. "Vaccinating inmates against hepatitis A and B not only protects the inmate population and correctional employees, but also prevents the spread of these diseases to the greater community upon release. The failure to vaccinate inmates can have a devastating effect on the public health."

Coming two decades after the CDC first recommended that only long-term inmates be vaccinated against hepatitis B, the new recommendations acknowledge the increasingly clear link between prison health and general public health. The ALF seeks to educate the public about this link and the dangers of viral hepatitis with the intention of encouraging more state- and federally-funded vaccination programs targeted to those populations most vulnerable to viral hepatitis.

In order to reduce the $700 million annual cost of treating hepatitis B, the CDC has recommended vaccinating adult groups at increased risk of contracting the disease. With up to one third of the incoming inmate population already infected with hepatitis, the corrections setting provides a clearly defined risk group for targeted vaccination. Considering that infected prisoners will be released back into the greater community, from a public health and economic standpoint, stopping hepatitis before it spreads is essential.

In fact, a recent Congressional report commissioned by the Department of Justice on the health status of soon-to-be-released inmates by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) determined that more than 155,000 inmates were released with acute or chronic hepatitis B infection in 1996 alone. For this reason, the NCCHC recommended in 2000 that all inmates should be vaccinated against hepatitis B and that prisons should comply with all CDC vaccination recommendations.

At the time of their report, the NCCHC called for a clear set of federal guidelines to assist state and local governments in designing appropriate screening and immunization programs. With today's announcement, the CDC has given state and local governments clear recommendations, which if followed, can lead to significant reductions in cost and loss of life due to viral hepatitis.

Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The hepatitis B virus, which is transmitted through blood or bodily fluids, is 100 times more contagious than HIV. Hepatitis B virus can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death. According to the CDC, more than 1.25 million Americans have chronic hepatitis B infection, with an estimated 78,000 new infections in 2001 alone.

Hepatitis A is a serious liver disease caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus. The disease, transmitted through the fecal-oral route, is spread through close personal contact or contaminated food and water. Each year, 200,000 Americans are infected with the virus, with up to 22 percent of infected adults requiring hospitalization. Because the symptoms of hepatitis A infection often take weeks to manifest, many carriers of the disease are unaware that they are infected and can unknowingly infect others.

The ALF is a leading national voluntary health agency dedicated to the prevention and cure of viral hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education, and advocacy on behalf of those at risk or affected by liver disease. The ALF's programs and services are supported by a nationwide network of state chapters. For additional information about hepatitis A and B and other livers diseases, contact the ALF at 1-888-4HEP-ABC or visit http://www.liverfoundation.org/.

Source: The American Liver Foundation

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