Killer on the prowl
Hepatitis B is a communicable disease with a high strike rate the germ: "The Hepatitis B virus kills 20 out of every 100 infected people each day. This works out to 400 times the people who die of AIDS daily,' points out S K Sarin, president, Indian Association for Study of Liver (INASL), New Delhi. It is a hundred times more infectious than HIV and can be transmitted through blood, tears, saliva and sweat, during blood transfusion, reuse of infected syringes, from mother to child or through sexual contact with an infected person.
The virus causes around 60 per cent of liver diseases and 80 per cent of liver cancers in India. Sometimes the impact of chronic Hepatitis B in the form of cancer or cirrhosis may become visible years after exposure and infection can be spread to others without the patient even being aware of it.
the vaccine: The vaccine is a protein developed by a particular gene in the virus. This protein is produced by adding a single copy of the gene to the genetic material of yeast. It triggers the formation of antibodies in vaccinated humans, which act as a shield against the disease. A technique has now been developed where multiple copies of the gene are incorporated in the yeast.
While other vaccines in the Universal Immunisation Programme are aimed at decreasing mortality and morbidity in children, the Hepatitis B vaccine is the first being used to counter the disease at a later stage in life.