Improved vaccine hopes to protect the public from hepatitis B
For hepatitis B -- which is spread through bodily fluids like blood and semen -- only nine per cent of those infected know their status. (jxfzsy / Istock.com)
The Canadian Centre for Vaccinology hopes a more effective vaccine will help protect everybody from hepatitis B.
The viral disease is the most common serious liver infection in the world. A vaccine is given in routine childhood immunization programs countrywide, but not all children actually get it.
It can be given later, but isn't as effective in adults or those with underlying diseases like diabetes.
"As you get past aged 40 or so, it's down to only about six out of 10 people would respond to the vaccine we have right now," says Dr. Joanne Langley, a infectious disease specialist.
About one in 10 people don't respond to the current vaccine at all. With that in mind, researchers across Finland, the United States and Canada – including the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at the IWK – are recruiting study participants over the age of 18 who haven't previously been vaccinated or infected with the disease.
"We will give them one of the two vaccines, but we won't know and they won't know. It will be blind and we'll measure their immune response to the vaccines that they get," Dr. Langley says.
Dr. Langley says our immune system weakens with age, and sometimes a stronger vaccine is required to get the proper response.
"This vaccine has more constituents in it to help your immune system recognize the hepatitis B and to make a good broad response to hepatitis B that would protect you," she says.
Some people silently carry hepatitis B, but can still infect others by simply sharing cutlery, kissing, or sexual contact.
"We know we can't identify the people who have hepatitis B carrier status just by looking at them. We need to do a lab test and it's much more efficient just to vaccinate everyone," says Dr. Langley
Dr. Langley says the disease affects about 1 per cent of the Canadian population, which is about 350,000 people too many.