Meir Hospital, Alon Ron Meir Hospital
A baby receiving a hepatitis vaccination at Meir Hospital, Meir Hospital Photo by Alon Ron / Haaretz Archive
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Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava yesterday summoned 120 infants and their parents for vaccinations against hepatitis A after another nurse in the maternity ward was found to have contracted the illness.

Last week, 150 infants and their parents received vaccinations after it emerged that a nurse contracted hepatitis A. Over the weekend, the hospital received laboratory results of tests performed on medical staff at the hospital. The tests indicated that another nurse had contracted the virus, but that she had developed antibodies in her blood and did not fall ill.

The Health Ministry decided to inoculate 120 additional infants who were either born or stayed in the hospital's nursery in the period of two weeks after the first hepatitis A discovery was made - from October 7 until the 19th.

"The vaccination against hepatitis A is effective only if it is administered 14 days after being exposed to the virus," said Prof. Daniel Shouval, the director of the liver unit at Hadassah Ein-Kerem University Hospital who is also advising the Health Ministry on handling the matter. "After [the 14 days], the vaccination is no longer effective. That is why infants from those dates were chosen."

Health Ministry officials decided not to perform exams to determine whether the infants contracted hepatitis A. Instead, they immediately vaccinated them with a specialized formula intended for newborns.

"The regular vaccination for hepatitis A is an active vaccine with a dormant virus that creates antibodies in the patient's body," said Dr. Michal Hovers, who directs the department for infectious diseases at Meir Hospital. "The vaccination can only be given to children older than 18 months. Infants receive antibodies that are ready for the virus and that serve as a passive vaccine."

"There is no need to perform tests to detect the illness in infants," said Shouval. "Giving the vaccine itself within 14 days of exposure to the virus enables the body to prevent the disease from actively attacking a baby and from passing the virus onto another baby for a period of three-to-five months. The success rate for the vaccine is over 90 percent."

Hepatitis A is usually a serious illness, though in some cases it may go undetected. In adults, symptoms include fever, nausea, stomach aches and liver infections. Complications usually appear in two percent of cases, though they are more likely in infants and the elderly.

Health Ministry officials are still trying to determine what brought about the first case of hepatitis A. The infected nurse is in good condition and she is treating the illness at her home with prescription medication. It is believed that she contracted the virus either from an infant in her care or from rotten food. The other infected nurse was also permitted to go home, though she remains under medical supervision.

In July 1999, Israel became one of the first countries to introduce hepatitis A vaccinations into its state vaccination program for children aged 18 months and 2 years. The vaccination is also administered to combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces.