China Fights Hepatitis B

BIEJING, China-Dirty needles and acupuncture are to blame for more than 75% of the Chinese population being infected with the hepatitis B virus. More than 10 million people in the country are estimated to be ill with the disease.

Hepatitis B can be spread three ways: through sexual intercourse, transmission from infected mothers to children during birth, and by sharing contaminated needles. The virus is more virulent that AIDS because it is 100 times more concentrated. Hepatitis B can also briefly survive outside of the body.

Researchers estimate that 60% of those infected became ill during childhood. They theorize many children are infected through dirty needles when receiving vaccinations. Ironically, these children are not being vaccinated against hepatitis B, even though such an injection exists. In the US, children are required to have the hepatitis B vaccination, but it is often too expensive for families in other areas of the world. The $25 injection is not covered by the Chinese national health insurance.

There is a general lack of awareness about the disease, leading many pregnant women who are unknowingly infected to transmit the virus to their children during childbirth or while breastfeeding.

An illegal trade of needles is also to blame. Officials have complained that needles are often recycled instead of being destroyed.

For more information about diseases in China, see our previous story concerning hepatitis C.

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