Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will kick off a three-month government-funded hepatitis A vaccination program Oct. 1, with 25,000 people expected to benefit from the measure.
The program will continue until Dec. 31, and there will be new target populations for the pilot program after a "significant" rise was found over the past several months in the number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis A co-infection cases, the CDC said Friday.
The new target populations are confirmed HIV cases or newly diagnosed cases of syphilis and gonorrhea among people born after Jan. 1, 1977, apart from those already targeted for the free hepatitis A vaccinations.
Children in aboriginal areas or rural townships adjacent to aboriginal areas, and in Kinmen and Matsu -- island groups off Taiwan -- as well as people who have had contact with patients diagnosed with virus-caused acute hepatitis A are the original target groups, according to the CDC.
There will be approximately 25,000 individuals eligible for the vaccinations, the CDC estimated, urging eligible individuals to get vaccinated at contracted healthcare facilities to lower the risk of infection.
The agency said infections of acute viral hepatitis A have escalated since last June. As of Sept. 29, the number of confirmed cases had reached 845, the highest for the period in many years, the CDC said.
Among the patients, 56.3 percent have reported HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as syphilis or gonorrhea, the CDC went on.
Further studies show that the majority of HIV and hepatitis A co-infection cases were among men aged between 18 and 39, who contracted HIV through unsafe sex, the CDC said, adding that such patients mostly reside in urban areas in northern and central Taiwan.
CDC data shows that 33.8 percent of the patients infected with both HIV and hepatitis A resided in New Taipei, while 25.3 percent lived in Taipei, 13.7 percent in Taichung, and 8.9 percent in Taoyuan.
Yang Ching-hui (???), a CDC division chief, said vaccination is the most efficient measure in the prevention of hepatitis A infection, with more than 95 percent of the vaccinated individuals producing antibodies after receiving the first dose of vaccine.
However, Yang recommended that people should get a second dose at their own expense after six months to a year of their first shot to keep the antibody for at least 20 years.
As part of precautions against hepatitis A infection, people should pay attention to food hygiene, avoid the consumption of raw and undercooked food -- especially raw bivalves such as oysters and clams -- and unboiled water, and should wash their hands properly with soap and water before and after handling food, having meals and using the bathroom, the CDC suggested.
Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease that can cause mild to severe illness. Symptoms include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal discomfort, dark-colored urine and jaundice, but not everyone who is infected will have all the symptoms.
The hepatitis A virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. The disease is closely associated with unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene, according to the World Health Organization.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel