updated 12/31/2003 1:19:59 PM ET 2003-12-31T18:19:59

Hepatitis B infections have declined by two-thirds in the United States in the past decade, reflecting the routine use of childhood vaccinations against the liver-attacking virus, the government said Wednesday.

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However, infections are still on the rise among adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Since 1999, hepatitis B cases have risen by 5 percent among men ages 20 to 39 and by 20 percent and 31 percent, respectively, for men and women 40 or older.

The CDC said the overall number of cases dropped 67 percent between 1990 to 2002, with the greatest decrease — 89 percent — in the newborn-to-19-year-old age group.

Improved vaccines for adults needed
“There have been overall declines — that is good,” said Dr. Beth Bell, chief of the epidemiology branch in the CDC’s division of viral hepatitis. “But the recent rise among adults is concerning and highlights the need to improve our ability to vaccinate adults at high risk.”

Adults infected with the bloodborne or sexually transmitted virus commonly have risk factors such as multiple sex partners or intravenous drug use, the CDC said.

Hepatitis B is part of a class of viruses that strike the liver.

Hepatitis C, like hepatitis B, is sexually transmitted or spread by sharing needles and can lead to chronic liver disease, liver scarring and liver cancer. Hepatitis A is spread primarily by eating something contaminated though unsanitary food handling by an infected person. Most hepatitis A victims get better after a few weeks.

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