Diabetics Should have Hepatitis B Vaccination

Diabetics under the age of 60 should be vaccinated against the deadly hepatitis B virus because they are twice as likely to catch the infection as a healthy person is.  Additionally, diabetics aged over 60 may also be at greater risk of catching the infection, which is passed through exchange of body fluids in the same way as the HIV virus.

Hepatitis B attacks the liver of the infected person, causing liver inflammation, vomiting, and jaundice, a condition where the skin and the whites of the eyes turn yellow with secreted bile pigments.  The virus can also prove fatal, causing hepatic cirrhosis and cancer, but it can be prevented by vaccination.  A series of three or four injections will give protection against hepatitis B.

Statistics show only 26% of people are properly vaccinated against hepatitis B, and with diabetics this falls to only 17%.  As diabetic people already have a compromised immune system because of their condition, they are at even higher risk of catching the virus.  Hepatitis B is passed through semen, saliva, tears, vaginal secretions and urine, but cannot be caught from sharing a cup, holding hands, or touching someone’s skin.  However, contaminated needles may also pass the infection on, including cleaned equipment used in tattoo parlors that has not been sterilized and needles used in a medical setting for dialysis or blood tests.

Symptoms include itching, feeling unwell, vomiting and nausea, a general feeling of being unwell and dark urine, followed by jaundice.  In most cases, the illness clears up after a few weeks, but in some cases it remains in the system causing long term chronic hepatitis.  Around 1.25 million Americans suffer from this, and the virus kills between 3,000 and 5,000 people a year.  The infection can also stay in the body and recur later.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has now recommended the hepatitis B vaccine for diabetes patients aged under 60, who are at twice the risk of infection as non-diabetic people.  They also noted that diabetics over 60 are at higher risk, with hepatitis B having broken out in a number of nursing homes.  This kind of occurrence can be caused by factors such as accidental sharing of finger stick prickers for glucose monitoring.  However, diabetics under 60 are more likely to be sexually active, and hepatitis B is commonly passed like a sexually transmitted disease.

Due to the cost of vaccinating all diabetics over 60 the ACIP refrained from demanding vaccination for all diabetics, especially as vaccination has been found to be less effective in older people.  However, they advised that younger people should have the shot as soon as they were diagnosed as diabetic.

Diabetic children should certainly be vaccinated, as children are less able to fight the infection themselves than adults are, and diabetic children have compromised immune systems.  Only 30% of young children who get hepatitis B will be able to recover and clear their bodies of the virus by themselves.  In newborn babies who caught the virus from their mother during birth, only 5% will be able to clear the infection themselves.

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