Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why the Hepatitis B Vaccine Is a Must for People with Diabetes

By Janice Stachowiak, MD
Lubbock Internist
Member, TMA Be Wise ― ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel

March 22 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day.

People living with diabetes are more susceptible to infection. That is why it is so important for them to get the flu vaccine every year. But there is another important vaccine that diabetics need to get also ― the Hepatitis B vaccine.

Hepatitis B is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis B virus. Some infected people are able to fight the virus and clear the infection. For others, the infection will remain and develop into chronic Hepatitis B. Over time, chronic Hepatitis B can cause cirrhosis of the liver and lead to complications such as liver failure or liver cancer. 

People with Type I or Type II diabetes have higher rates of Hepatitis B than the general population. Why would this be? The Hepatitis B virus is usually spread when blood or other body fluids from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. Hepatitis B can spread through the sharing of needles, razors, injection equipment, and through sexual contact. The Hepatitis B virus can also be spread from an infected mother to her baby. People with diabetes are at increased risk for Hepatitis B if they share glucometers, fingerstick devices, syringes, or insulin pens. The Hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body, and possibly on medical equipment, for at least a week and can still cause infection if it enters the body of someone who is not infected. Diabetics who need help monitoring their glucose and live in skilled nursing facilities can be at increased risk if proper procedures are not followed. That is why it is so important to be proactive and get vaccinated.

In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended that all diabetic adults under the age of 60 be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. The effectiveness of the Hepatitis B vaccine decreases with age. If you are over 60 and living with diabetes, talk with your doctor about possible vaccination against Hepatitis B. The decision on whether are not to vaccinate against Hepatitis B will depend on your risk of infection and your overall health status.

Due to the Hepatitis B infection being potential deadly and preventable with vaccination, the CDC and the ACIP recommended in 1999 that all children and adolescents be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. In a few decades, most adults with diabetes should already be vaccinated against the Hepatitis B virus. 

The Hepatitis B vaccine is a series of three shots given over six months. All three shots are needed for long term protection.

If you have diabetes and have not been vaccinated against Hepatitis B, talk with your doctor about vaccination.

Dr. Stachowiak, an internist from Lubbock, teaches at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. She is a member of TMA’s Be Wise – ImmunizeSM Physician Advisory Panel and is a member of the South Plains Immunization Network.

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