Centre to vaccinate health workers against Hepatitis B infection

The prevalence of Hepatitis B in the general population of India is 2-8 per cent | Reuters The prevalence of Hepatitis B in the general population of India is 2-8 per cent | Reuters

They save lives, at times, risking their own. Even as the memories of Lini Puthussery, a Kerala nurse who died after she contracted the deadly viral infection from the first victim of Nipah virus in Kozhikode are fresh, the Centre has decided to immunise all health workers against Hepatitis B infection. Health workers at an increased risk of acquiring the viral infection, such as those involved in “conducting deliveries, giving injections and exposed to blood or blood products” would now be vaccinated against the viral hepatitis, the Centre has announced. 

According to data from the ministry of health and family welfare, in India, the prevalence of Hepatitis B in the general population ranges from two to eight per cent, making it the second largest global pool of chronic hepatitis B infections. In 2015, the global prevalence of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infection in the general population was estimated at 3.5 per cent with about 257 million persons living with chronic HBV infection. Each year, about 780,000 people die due to the consequences of Hepatitis B such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. 

Doctors, nurses and paramedics are at a high risk than the general population, because of their exposure to the virus. Among those, paramedics are at a higher risk of HBV transmission and do not receive the vaccination as often as doctors do. 

Health workers are often either unaware of their exposure to infections, or, even when they are aware, they do not seek treatment. Only 16-60 per cent of health workers have received complete HBV immunisation in India.

It is a well-recognised occupational risk for health workers including housekeeping staff and emergency workers who are exposed to infected blood and body fluids or blood-contaminated environments. The infection can spread through sexual contact; sharing needles/syringes, needle injuries; or other invasive equipment; or from mother to baby at birth.

Hepatitis B is a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the liver, and can cause acute and chronic disease. The virus is transmitted through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person. There's no specific treatment for it, but the infection can be prevented through vaccines.