HealthDay News — More than half of all adults at high risk of hepatitis B infection miss opportunities to be vaccinated against the disease, study data indicate.

Farah Ladak, MD, from Brown University in Providence, RI, and colleagues analyzed data on a subset of 15,432 adults at high risk for hepatitis B infection, who participated in the 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, to determine factors associated with vaccination rates and viral transmissions.

More than half of participants, 51.4% remained unvaccinated, despite the fact that 50% had the potential to receive the vaccine based on self-reported contact with health-care providers, the researchers reported in Infection.

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“This is a really simple thing that we could do and if somebody ends up getting the disease because we didn’t make the effort, that’s really a shame,” study researcher Brian Montague, DO, MS, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and physician at the Miriam Hospital, said in a press release.

Several factors appear to have influenced high-risk individuals likelihood of being vaccinated against hepatitis B. Individuals who were administered vaccines against pneumonia and influenza were more likely to receive hepatitis B vaccine than those who were not (odds ratio= 2.27 vs. 1.67), and high-risk adults who were tested for HIV at a counseling site or drug treatment facility were more likely to be vaccinated than those who were not tested (OR=1.78 vs 1.73). However, individuals who were tested for HIV at a correctional facility were less likely to be vaccinated against hepatitis B (OR=0.60).

“The results of this study, in combination with recommendations issued by the Institute of Medicine [IOM], underscore the inadequacy of vaccination coverage in high-risk adults and highlight areas of opportunity to bridge gaps in vaccination coverage,” the researchers wrote.

Health-care officials have not devoted enough resources to vaccination programs, the IOM suggested in it’s 2010 report, perhaps because many people with hepatitis infections are asymptomatic. The agency urged clinicians to seize opportunities to vaccinate high-risk individuals against hepatitis B. 

“Given that the risks for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C overlap, what we need is integrated testing and prevention programs and strategies that link those cases identified with effective treatment in the community,” Montague said.

Ladak F, Gjelsvik A, Feller E et al. Infection. 2012; doi: 10.1007/s15010-011-0241-2.