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Hepatitis B prevention program promoted

Since the fall of 1994, Ontario has implemented a Hepatitis B vaccination program.

Thanks to the co-operation of parents, teachers, and Grade 7 students, the Northwestern Health Unit successfully has immunized more than 80 percent of the Grade 7 population in the Kenora-Rainy River districts.

“Although participation in the Hepatitis B vaccine program is voluntary, the Northwestern Health Unit recommends that all eligible students receive the Hepatitis B vaccine,” noted Dr. Pete Sarsfield, CEO and chief medical officer of health for the health unit.

Hepatitis B is one of several viral infections that can affect the liver.

Although this disease is sometimes very mild and produces no symptoms, it also can be very serious. The Hepatitis B virus can damage the liver permanently.

It is estimated this virus causes about 80 percent of all liver cancers.

Hepatitis B is spread by contact with body fluids—blood, semen, vaginal fluids, and saliva. The symptoms of this disease may include nausea, fever, fatigue, dark urine, abdominal pain, enlarged liver, and jaundice.

Yet at least half of the people infected have no symptoms, and up to 10 percent of people who contract this disease may feel healthy but are able to pass the virus on to other people.

There is no cure for hepatitis, but the Hepatitis B vaccine is more than 90 percent effective in preventing infection.

It is one of the safest vaccines and has been used in Canada for more than 15 years.

The 2007-08 Hepatitis B immunization campaign again will target Grade 7 students. Public health nurses will give students two injections over a six-month period beginning in October.

The two-dose schedule—using the product Recombivax HB licensed for adolescents aged 11-15—is used for the program.

Using this product, students only will require two injections as opposed to three injections that were given in previous years.

Parents, students, and the general public who have questions may contact their local health unit office or visit www.nwhu.on.ca

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