Every college student in the United States should be vaccinated against hepatitis B, a potentially deadly disease that infects 300,000 Americans each year, a study published yesterday said.
The American College Health Association, meeting in Baltimore, issued a report calling for colleges and universities to recommend vaccination for all students. Hepatitis B often is transmitted through sexual activity. Young adults are vulnerable to infection, the report said, because sexually transmitted diseases are common on college campuses, and many students have more than one sexual partner.
Only 1 percent of the 28 million young Americans at risk have been vaccinated, according to the association.
The report said that vaccinations are particularly important for high-risk students: those who have had sex with more than one partner in the past six months, who engage in unprotected sex or who have another sexually transmitted disease, such as herpes.
But universal vaccination is the only way to stop the spread of the disease, which has increased 77 percent among young adults in the past decade.
"In order to stop the spread of this serious virus, it is crucial that college health care providers urge vaccination for all their students," said Dr. Marjeanne Collins, chairman of the association's Vaccine Preventable Diseases Task Force. "It is not enough to vaccinate only those at high risk, since more than one-third of those infected have no known risk factors."
Hepatitis B is 100 times more contagious than the virus that causes AIDS -- and, like AIDS, it is spread through sexual activity and by contact with blood and other fluids. The virus can trigger a flu-like illness, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, it can become life-threatening, leading to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.