APRIL 14, 1997

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New hepatitis B vaccine required for school

hepatitis B vaccine Children may be temporarily excluded from kindergarten, preschool, or day care this fall if they have not been immunized against hepatitis B.
   According to a new requirement in Washington, all children entering kindergarten and those under age 6 in preschool or daycare must complete a three-shot series of hepatitis B vaccine by September 1997. Previously, hepatitis B vaccine was recommended, but not required, for school entry.
   Hepatitis B is a virus that attacks the liver; it can cause serious illness and death. The younger a person is when infected, the greater the likelihood that he or she will become a carrier and suffer from chronic liver disease or liver cancer later in life. The disease is spread by direct contact with infected blood or body fluids. Direct contact can be as basic as sharing a toothbrush or trading earrings.
   Even though hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccine, between 200,000 and 300,000 Americans are infected each year. Hepatitis B vaccine is one of the safest vaccines available. It can provide protection for at least 10 years.
   For more information, or a referral to local immunization services, parents can call 1-800-322-2588.