Study tests hepatitis B vaccine

A second phase of clinical tests of China's hepatitis B vaccine are being carried out on 46 chronic hepatitis B patients to test the vaccine's effectiveness, said expert Wu Yuzhang.

The patients began treatment in June and will remain under close medical observation until the tests end next March, said Wu, head of the Immunology Institute of the People's Liberation Army.

The research team headed by Wu completed the first phase of clinical tests of the vaccine in June 2003. Nine months of monitoring found no safety concerns on a group of 52 healthy volunteers.

"The vaccine needs to go through a third phase of clinical tests before being put into production. The third phase of tests will be conducted on a larger group of hepatitis B patients to test safety and effectiveness," Wu said.

It is estimated that about 100 million Chinese are living with hepatitis B and about 20 million of them are chronic hepatitis B patients. Each year in China about 280,000 people die of cirrhosis or liver cancer linked to hepatitis B.

Wu said the hepatitis B global inoculation scheme being promoted by the World Health Organization is based on a preventive vaccine, which has no effect on infected people and fails to protect five to 15 percent of newborns.

The Chinese Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control has invited Andy Lau, a famous Hong Kong star, who is carrying the hepatitis B virus, to be a publicity ambassador for the prevention and control of the disease.

The Chinese Ministry of Health has begun a yearlong nationwide survey of hepatitis B, to update guidelines on prevention and control of the disease.

On another liver virus, officials are calling hepatitis C a major public health threat in China. Health departments must do more to raise public awareness of the disease, an expert said in Beijing yesterday.

Hepatitis C is a serious threat to health in China and a public health challenge for the government, said Zhuang Hui, director of the Society of Hepatitis Diseases, attached to the Chinese Medical Association.

He called for the more active measures to prevent the disease and to monitor high risk groups such as medical workers, intravenous drug users, people with multiple sex partners and those who have received blood transfusions or organ transplants.

According to the national Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 million Chinese are carrying the hepatitis C virus. New infection cases jumped to about 60,000 in 2005 from 20,000 in 2003. Although acute symptoms are relatively mild compared with other types of hepatitis, it tends to become chronic and can develop into cirrhosis and liver cancer.