Anticipating the need to vaccinate 135,000 seventh-graders against potentially deadly hepatitis B, Los Angeles County health officials have begun a massive campaign to offer free vaccinations at county clinics.
Under a new state law that takes effect July 1, students cannot enter, advance to or repeat the seventh grade if they have not received the vaccine, which is given in three doses over six months.
The immunization can cost more than $100 through private physicians.
"The risks of developing [the condition] are high, and when you get it, it's such a horrible disease," said Dr. Akiko Kimura, medical director of the county immunization program. "There's no magic medicine. This one of those cases where prevention is more important than the cure."
Symptoms for hepatitis B include vomiting, mild fever, fatigue, nausea, jaundice and muscle and joint aches. The disease can cause cirrhosis, liver cancer and death. Each year, up to 10% of those infected develop serious chronic liver disease.
Kimura said hepatitis B, which like HIV is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids, is 100 times more contagious than HIV. The virus can be be transmitted through sexual activity with an infected person, sharing intravenous needles, blood-to-blood contact and by infected mothers to their infant, she said. Using unsanitary instruments in body piercing and tattooing also can spread the disease, other health workers said.
Parents, who are being alerted to the new law by their children's schools, should start now to get them immunized, Kimura said. "All the clinics will be packed if they wait until starting school," she said.
All three shots are necessary to ensure long-term protection, said Dr. Loring Dales of the state Department of Health Services immunization branch. The full series of shots offers immunity for 20 years to life, he said.
The high-risk years for contracting hepatitis B are early adulthood, and the highest incidence of new infections occurs in the 15-to-35 age group, Dales said.
Nationwide, about 200,000 people become infected with the virus annually, and 11,000 of them are hospitalized, according to Kimura. About half of those infected do not show symptoms and a small number of people, known as chronic carriers, carry the virus for years. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people die each year from the effects of the disease, she said.
Another state law that took effect in 1997 requires that kindergartners receive the hepatitis B vaccine. Concern among public health officials that too many older students were entering school systems without full vaccinations prompted the passage of the latest law on hepatitis B, which is aimed at children who started school before then or who have not been fully vaccinated, officials said.
Legislation signed in 1997 adopted national immunization recommendations drafted by pediatricians and family physicians. Similar regulations have been enacted in more than 25 other states.
For information about county health clinics offering free vaccinations, call (800) 427-8700.
Times staff writers Agnes Diggs and Tina Nguyen contributed to this story.
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Immunizing Against Hepatitis B
Under a new state law that takes effect July 1, students cannot enter, advance to or repeat the seventh grade if they have not received the hepatitis B vaccine, which is given in three doses over a six-month period.
Hepatitis B is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver. This can cause liver cell damage, which can lead to cirrhosis and an increased risk of liver cancer. Blood tests will determine if there has been an infection.
Dates and times vary, but immunization shots against hepatitis B are being offered at the following locations:
Central Health Center
241 N. Figueroa St.,
Glendale Health Center
501 N. Glendale Ave.
5205 Melrose Ave.,
Monrovia Health Center
330 W. Maple Ave.
Pomona Health Center
750 S. Park Ave.
South Health Center
1522 E. 102nd St.,
Torrance Health Center
2300 W. Carson St.
Curtis Tucker Health Center
123 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood
Whittier Health Center
7643 S. Painter Ave.
If you have questions, call the Los Angeles County health services information line at (800) 427-8700.
Source: Los Angeles County Department of Health Services