Hepatitis B: Does the end justify the means?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
What is Hepatitis B?

A viral infection of the liver contracted through contaminated transfusions, sexual intercourse with an infected individual, or sharing needles. It is possible to be a chronic carrier and have no symptoms of disease.

What is the risk of a woman who is a carrier of Hepatitis B passing it to her child?

This depends on the infectivity status of the woman. If she carries what is known as the "E marker" in her blood the chances of her passing the virus during labour or birth to the child may be 90 per cent or higher. If she carries the "anti-E" marker, then the risk is much lower.

What is the risk to the child if he or she is not vaccinated shortly after birth?

Expert medical opinion is divided on the size of the risk. Public health officials at the Western Health and Social Services Board in Londonderry say that one in six children infected at birth will develop cancer/ cirrhosis of the liver and may die before they are 16.

Professor Jangu Banatlava, a leading virologist, disagrees. There are long-term consequences and a proportion of children will go on to develop liver disease in adulthood but the figure of one in six is, he says, "plucked out of thin air" or based on worst-case scenarios in developing countries.