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Hepatitis B in Kuwait: Are Immunizations Making an Impact? Yes!

Categories: Prevention/Vaccination

a grayscale map singling out Kuwait in brown.

The Public Health Matters blog welcomes requests from its readers. Recently, a reader asked us to address the issue of Hepatitis B in Kuwait. Dr. Frank Mahoney, a CDC medical epidemiologist who has worked extensively in the Middle East, wrote this response:

The global burden of disease due to cirrhosis (hardening) of the liver and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC—liver cancer) is high (~ 2% of all deaths) and expected to increase over the next 20 years. Liver cancer is already the 4th leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Studies of patients with cirrhosis and HCC in the Eastern Mediterranean Region indicate more than 75% is caused by hepatitis B virus (Hep B) or hepatitis C virus (Hep C) infection. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates approximately 4.3 million persons are infected each year with Hep B and 800,000 persons with HCV in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Numerous studies suggest that most Hep B and Hep C infections in the Eastern Mediterranean Region are acquired due to unsafe injections and medical procedures. The cost to treat patients with chronic Hep B or Hep C infection far outweighs the cost of implementing prevention programs (like immunizations and infection control). A wide-ranging strategy is urgently needed to prevent spread of these blood-borne pathogens throughout the Eastern Mediterranean Region and other parts of the world.

A map of Kuwait.

Kuwait is a small country within the Eastern Mediterranean Region, located between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and bordered on one side by the Persian Gulf. In 1990, Kuwait was one of the first countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region to introduce Hep B vaccine in their national immunization program. Before vaccine introduction, ~ 25% of adults had evidence of Hep B infection, including 2.5% with chronic (lifelong) infection. Hep B vaccination began with infant immunizations and included the delivery of a dose at birth to prevent Hep B transmission from mother to child. Kuwait reports high numbers of children receiving the Hep B vaccine. While no formal studies have been conducted to document the impact of introducing Hep B vaccine in Kuwait, it is likely that the program has significantly protected children born since 1990, resulting in a reduced prevalence of chronic Hep B infection and associated morbidity and mortality (chronic liver disease and HCC). Kuwait also offers Hep B vaccination to health care workers with occupational exposure to blood.

WHO estimates about 1.8% of the Kuwait population have evidence of Hep C infection. The epidemiology of Hep C infection in Kuwait is not well-studied.

Read “Isolation of genetically diverse Marburg viruses from Egyptian fruit bats” from the July 2009 issue of PLoS Pathogens.

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