California Single Largest Contributor To Nation's Hepatitis A Burden; Yet Survey Shows Majority Of Residents Misunderstand Disease

New Survey Reveals 4 out of 5 Californians Are Unprotected Against Contagious Liver Disease

Los Angeles - May 24, 2000 -California has one of the highest hepatitis A rates in the country, but more than one-half of Californians do not even know that hepatitis A affects the liver, according to the results of a statewide survey released today by the American Liver Foundation (ALF). The survey of 2,000 Californians also found that 4 out of 5 residents have not been immunized against this vaccine-preventable disease.

"The state of California accounts for 20 percent of the nation's total hepatitis A cases, and people here must be educated about this serious and highly contagious liver disease," said Paul Martin, MD, director of hepatology and associate professor of medicine, UCLA School of Medicine. "Californians need to understand that vaccination against hepatitis A, particularly among children, is the most effective tool we have to prevent this disease."

Majority of Californians Do Not Understand Hepatitis A

The new survey found that most people in the state (79 percent) are familiar with or have heard of hepatitis A, but more than half (52 percent) are unaware that it affects the liver and a majority (54 percent) incorrectly believe that it is transmitted by tattooing. Furthermore, two-thirds (63 percent) of all Californians do not know that hepatitis A is easily spread from children to adults, and most (72 percent) do not know that hepatitis A can be contracted while changing a child's diaper.

"It is estimated that young children are responsible for up to one-half of all reported cases of hepatitis A, making routine vaccination of children clearly the most effective way to reduce the incidence of hepatitis A in California and nationwide," Dr. Martin explained. "Infected children usually have no symptoms, thus serving as a major source of hepatitis A infection for older children and adults, who usually develop symptoms and sometimes serious consequences, even death."

Hepatitis A is spread via the fecal-oral route, through close personal contact or the ingestion of contaminated water or food.

Dangerous Risks Remain Despite Concern

The survey revealed that while the majority of California parents are concerned about their children contracting hepatitis A (68 percent of those aware of disease), only 1 in 3 parents (32 percent) have had any of their children vaccinated against this easily prevented liver disease. The survey also showed that nearly all Californians know that anyone can contract hepatitis A (97 percent of those aware of disease), but most (83 percent) have not been vaccinated.

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued landmark recommendations encouraging California, and 10 other states where the rate of hepatitis A is at least twice the national average, to implement routine hepatitis A immunization programs among children to reduce the spread of the disease. The same panel recommended that six additional states with hepatitis A rates higher than the national average consider implementing the same types of vaccination programs.

According to the survey findings, after being informed of CDC's recommendations for immunization in California, the majority of California parents with unvaccinated children (73 percent) said that they plan to take action and have their children vaccinated against the disease. Nearly half of the unvaccinated adults surveyed (43 percent) also said that they plan to be vaccinated themselves.

"The American Liver Foundation supports CDC's recommendations for hepatitis A immunization and urges vaccination among children and other groups at risk in California, and other states where the disease is widespread," said Alan Brownstein, President and CEO, American Liver Foundation. "We are pleased to release the findings of this important survey to arm California residents with critical knowledge about the seriousness, prevalence and prevention of hepatitis A."

Hepatitis A: Serious Burden in California

California has a rate of hepatitis A that is twice the national average. In fact, California is the single largest contributor to the disease problem in the U.S., with 20 percent of the nation's total hepatitis A cases occurring here. A recent cost-benefit analysis shows that universal vaccination of more than 500,000 two-year-old children in California would prevent more than 17,000 infections and 2,000 hospital admissions, save more than 2,000 years of life and decrease lifetime hepatitis A treatment costs by $12.3 million.

Hepatitis A symptoms can be debilitating and include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, jaundice and dark urine. Infected individuals can unknowingly infect others two weeks prior to feeling ill themselves. On average, people miss about 30 days of work when they are infected with the virus that causes hepatitis A. Up to 22 percent of adult hepatitis A patients require hospitalization and approximately 100 people in this country die every year from the disease. Hepatitis A is also a significant drain on the U.S. economy, costing nearly one-half billion dollars each year.

ALF is a leading national voluntary health agency dedicated to the prevention and cure of viral hepatitis and other liver diseases through research and education. ALF's programs and services are supported by a nationwide network of chapters, including chapters in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. For additional information about hepatitis A or other forms of viral hepatitis and liver disease, contact ALF at: 1-888-4HEP-ABC or visit www.liverfoundation.org.

These are the findings of an Angus Reid poll conducted between May 2nd and May 10th, 2000. The poll is based on a randomly selected sample of 2,000 adult residents of the state of California. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate to within 177 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would have been had the entire California population been polled. The margin of error will be larger within regions and for other sub-groupings of the survey population. These data were statistically weighted to ensure the sample's regional and age/sex composition reflects that of the actual Californian population according to U.S. Census data.

For more information pertaining to this media release, please contact:

Holly White or Dianna Littman American Liver Foundation (212) 598-2845/2857

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